x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Arabic news digest considers the G8 offer of aid to new Arab democracies

Editorials in Arab newspapers comment on the speech of Israeli prime minister to the US Congress, the bombing by Yemen's president of his own tribe and calls for leniency by Bahrain's clerics.

Beware G8's backing of the Arab Spring

It's good that the G8, the group of the eight most powerful economies in the world, pledge to allocate $20 billion (Dh 73.4bn) in support of the Arab states in the course of democratisation and radical reform, noted the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds al Arabi in its editorial. But this it remains all theory, with nothing written or binding.

In fact, the most that Tunisia and Egypt - the countries where the revolution has so far succeeded - can hope for is easy loans from the main creditors, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Investment Bank, over the next two years.

"These loans, however, are conditioned by 'suitable reform efforts', which is a vague phrase, lacking a proper definition. Plus, Arab countries' previous experience with the IMF has not been all that fruitful."

The IMF's recommendations for economic reform have actually been counterproductive in many Arab states, due to the emphasis on undermining the public sector and halting state subsidies for basic commodities.

Egypt and Tunisia, both of which have been severely affected by shrinking tourism revenue and migrating foreign investment, need financial support. But payback should not be in the form of political compromise, emptying the revolution of its principle of social equality. It won't be the first time Western powers traded loans for political blackmail.


Netanyahu proved he owns the US Congress

"Forget the content of the speech delivered by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, before the United States Congress last week, in which he buried any prospect for a settlement deal by reiterating his proverbial Nos: No going back to the 1967 borders; No to the right of return; No to giving up an inch of Jerusalem; No to dismantling the settlements in occupied territories," said the editorial in the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej.

"Forget all that and just focus on the form of that speech, and its venue. Netanyahu spoke in Congress like an emperor surrounded by his entourage. It didn't look like he was addressing the legislature of the most powerful state in the world.

"Indeed, it looked like the parliament of some destitute country in the presence of its ultimate ruler. The members of that parliament were standing up and sitting down, applauding 29 times in 40 minutes. And as soon as he was done with his speech, they elbowed their way to shake hands with him and receive his blessing."

It is hard to believe that those congressmen and women are the product of a democratic electoral system and are supposed to defend the interests of the United States first and foremost.

By any measure, Mr Netanyahu let the world know that "he owns the Congress, the White House and the United States itself".


When the president bombs his own tribe

"The president in question is Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, and the tribe is the Hashid, the largest tribe in the country. Saleh double-crossed his own tribe and bombed them," wrote Salman al Dawsari, a columnist with the London-based newspaper Asharq al Awsat.

Pitting himself thus against all Yemeni tribes, Mr Saleh has driven the last nail into the coffin of a hitherto brittle tribal power balance. He is trying to distract the international community's attention from the real youth revolution that wants him out.

But a desperate move like this just won't fly. "Saleh must know that what is unfolding before him is the last act of the drama of his 33-year rule. His presidency is effectively over." Igniting a civil war to lengthen his tenure just makes matters worse for him.

The Yemeni people, to their credit, refrained from resorting to weapons, which they do own, despite the government's continuous taunting.

The latest bombing of the abodes of key tribal sheikhs, last week, is the latest of foolish acts the president has committed in his frantic desire to stay in power. Just a few days earlier, he killed the plan proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, in which he would have stepped down with immunity.

Like a drowning man, he will punch anyone who comes to his rescue.


Bahraini imams call for leniency in trials

According to Abeedli al Abeedli, the editor-in-chief of the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat, there is quasi-unanimity among Bahraini clerics about the need for leniency in handling the court cases against Bahraini citizens accused of involvement in the recent unrest in the country. Without prejudice to rigorous justice, that is.

"Calling on the state authority to adopt a discourse of love and tolerance does not go against the interests of national security," said one imam in his last Friday sermon. "Mercy is a divine attribute," said another imam, according to the editor.

Indeed, there is a need for a creative balance between mercy and law enforcement. "That is the right way to approach the cases of all those who have been detained pending trial over their activities in the recent crisis."

Though it won't be easy to achieve this fine equilibrium between clemency and rigour, given lingering post-crisis sectarian tension, the attempt is still well worth it.

By unanimously agreeing on the need to exercise clemency and tolerance, Bahrain's clerics, playing their best spiritual role, are giving the country's leadership a cue to pick up on: rulings against Bahraini defendants must be fair, and they could always use a patriotic dose of compassion.


* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi