x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Arabic editorial on the new proposal for a constitution in Morocco

Arabic newspapers discuss the election of a Lebanese author to the French Academy, the similarities in Baathist parties and the US drawdown in Afghanistan.

Moroccan king tries to redefine monarchy

The King of Morocco delivered an historic speech on June 17, announcing key constitutional reforms and redefining the Arab monarchy system, according to Saad al Ajami, a columnist with the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

"It would be no exaggeration to say that King Mohammed VI laid the groundwork for a major advancement in the functioning of the Arab succession-based political system as we know it."

Empowering the Moroccan people within the framework of a modern, constitutional monarchy was at the heart of King Mohammed's speech. The Moroccan people can now make their own laws through an elected parliament, while the king maintains an arbitrator's role.

Unlike Arab dictatorships that have adopted a menacing tone when addressing their people, the Moroccan king was respectful and rational. "The king did not abuse anyone, nor did he accuse his people of treason or being a bunch of intruders, terrorists or plotters in a foreign conspiracy. Neither did he accuse them of being al Qa'eda affiliates."

Acknowledging the legitimacy of his people's pro-democracy demands and responding to regional developments, the king's speech combined modesty and self-confidence.

Morocco now leads an unprecedented democratic reform process in the Arab region.


Second Arab in top French language body

Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese author who writes in French, was elected on Thursday as a new member of the French Academy, beating the French philosopher Yves Michaud in the vote, reported the pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper on its front page.

The French Academy, the prestigious institution of learning and the guardian of the French language, needed a new member on its board after the death of the French thinker and scholar Claude Levi-Strauss in 2009.

Speaking to Al Hayat, Mr Maalouf expressed his satisfaction "to join this prestigious institution of French culture" and stressed "the importance of being part of this academy".

"Joining the Academy is a very important moment in my life and has a very particular meaning, given that I am a Lebanese and an Arab, which would allow me to play the role of a bridge between two worlds," he added.

Mr Mallouf is the second Arab to join the French Academy after the Algerian female author Assia Djebar, elected in 2005. He was born in Beirut in 1949 into a family of journalists and writers, and his work focuses on the theme of immigration and identity.

Maalouf was also the second Arab author, after Morocco's Tahar Ben Jelloun, to receive the Prix Goncourt - equivalent to the US Pulitzer Prize - awarded annually to top French-language authors.


If Tariq Aziz were watching Syria now?

"There is a pressing question in my head these days: did Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, watch the last press conference of the Syrian foreign miniter Walid al Muallem?"asked the editor of the pan-Arab Asharq al Awsat newspaper. "And if he did, what did he think of this foreign minister who represents the last Baathist regime standing?

"I relayed this question to a prominent Arab personality who has known both men. He told me: 'People may be different within the Baathist regime, but the regime's repressive and cruel methods that make a man like Walid al Muallem act the way he did or say what he did during the press conference remain the same.'"

In a press conference last week, Mr al Muallem told reporters something to the effect that Syria had stopped considering that Europe existed on the planet, in reaction to intensified pressure from the old continent on the Syrian regime to stop the use of force against Syrian demonstrators.

According to his "high-profile" source, the editor said that, during the early days of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Tariq Aziz entreated a Russian official to convince Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait because he, Mr Aziz, could not.

Mr al Muallem might be as helpless today as Mr Aziz was then. Once a "silk-soft, serene and gentle" man, he has been made to do what he is told.


The US drawdown is a declaration of defeat

As George Orwell has it, "the quickest way to end a war is to lose it", and that is exactly what President Obama's decision to pull out 33,000 troops from Afghanistan within a year is trying to achieve, wrote Abdelbari Atwan, the editor of the London-based Al Quds al Arabi newspaper.

"It is an explicit declaration of defeat and a desperate move to minimise losses."

Mr Obama had set three main goals in Afghanistan: making it strong with its own institutions and properly trained army; defeating al Qa'eda; and paring down the Taliban's military dominance.

"Almost none of these goals has been achieved. The Afghan state proper is confined to a quarter of the capital Kabul, and the Afghan security forces whose training has cost $6 billion cannot even ensure the protection of their own president."

As to the war on al Qa'eda, it was in the wrong place. "The presence of al Qa'eda in Afghanistan has been very limited in recent years, and most of its operatives have relocated to Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and the Islamic Maghreb." The Taliban, with their expanding sphere of influence, did not need their assistance anymore.

So, given the financial toll of this war ($7bn a month), and the resulting taxpayers' pressure, Mr Obama was forced to make the call for a drawdown.

* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi