x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Assad ignores another chance

Even now, Bashar Al Assad could have used this week's speech to try for reconciliation, an Arabic-language editor writes. But he did not. Other topics: Egypt and Germany arming Israel.

President Al Assad missed another 'golden chance' to genuinely reach out to Syrian people

After a six-month hiatus, President Bashar Al Assad addressed the Syrian people at the opening session of a newly (and hurriedly) elected parliament, with about the same level of blandness and denial that characterised all his previous speeches since the Arab Spring caught up with Syria 16 months ago, commented Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan- Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

"The speech was colourless and way out of step with the gravity of what has been unfolding in Syria," the editor wrote in his front-page column yesterday.

"The Syrian people, and with them millions of Arabs, were waiting for a more forthright speech, one that tackled the real issues at hand, answered questions that are whirling in the minds of confused Syrian citizens and offered proposals to resolve the crisis."

None of that happened. President Al Assad missed yet another "golden chance" to reach out to the Syrian public in a realistic manner. Realism in this case entails acknowledging mistakes and showing sincere sympathy for the victims of the violence and their families.

Instead, Mr Al Assad talked about "fighting on" and "armed terrorists" and the "conspiracy". Perhaps worse, he tried to make a metaphor of the unceasing bloodshed taking place in the country, saying that even a well-meaning surgeon draws a lot of blood as he tries to cure the patient.

True, President Al Assad strongly condemned last month's Houla massacre, in which 108 villagers were killed, including dozens of children. He said at one point that "even monsters" would not commit such an atrocity.

"But he did not mention that those monsters were in fact pro-regime Syrians who receive protection from the state police and armed forces," the writer added.

The bottom line is that if Mr Al Assad expects to hang on to power, be evasive on reforms and generally maintain the status quo, it is because he is fully convinced that the pressure his regime is getting from the Arab League is still too weak to offset the strong backing he is getting from Russia, China and Iran, the editor argued.

During their meeting in Doha at the weekend, Arab foreign ministers agreed to block all Syrian television channels from broadcasting on Arabsat and Nilesat. They also called for the enforcement of the Kofi Annan peace plan under a Chapter 7 clause of the UN Charter, which would allow the use of force, as in Afghanistan and Libya.

But such measures and demands have no teeth. The Syrian regime knows it.

It's sad but true, the editor wrote, that Syria looks like it is going down the path of civil war as the Annan peace plan is being reduced to shreds by government shells and the bullets of the Free Syrian Army, the opposition militia.

German arms sale to Israel is paradoxical

While Israel was equipping advanced German- built submarines, the German Chancellor denied that they had nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. However, Der Spiegel magazine has reported that Israel received, a few days ago, a fourth submarine, and that these subs have the capability to use nuclear missiles.

The Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej wrote in its editorial yesterday that "for Germany to supply Israel at this time with weapons, be it nuclear or non-nuclear, raises many questions."

Germany, like other western nations, has been calling for adherence to international law and respect of human rights. So it does not stand to reason that "Germany equipped with arms a country that constantly violates international law and abuses human rights."

Israel is an occupier, according to United Nations resolutions, but Israel could not care less about these resolutions. So "how come a country that talks big about democracy, human rights and international law, contributed to supplying such as occupier with these weaponry?"

"Just as they do with other countries, European nations' aid to Israel, let alone arms sales, should be conditional on how committed Israel is to international legitimacy," the writer noted.

Such behaviour not only undermines the credibility of Germany and European countries at large, but it also prompts other countries to adopt policies without international legitimacy.

Undecided Egyptians are between two fires

The many Egyptians who voted for neither run-off candidate are indeed caught on the horns of a dilemma, Saudi writer Abdullah Nasser Al Otaibi said in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

Unfortunately, the Egyptian people have to choose between two evils in the run-off. So what would push Egyptians toward or away from voting for each of the two candidates?

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood was long victimised under the old corrupt regime would be the best incentive for people, out of sympathy, to go for the Islamist organisation's candidate.

Also important is people's aspiration to take a cue from the Turkish model economically and politically; and finally voters would seek to prevent the return of the old regime remnants.

But the major deterrent for voters would be to deprive Islamists of total control over Egypt.

Those for Ahmed Shafiq would find voting for him an opportunity to counterbalance the Brotherhood's absolute dominion.

Also those fearful of restrictions on arts and freedom of expression in the name of religion would be inclined to cast their votes for Shafiq.

Egyptians will head to the polls mid-month to elect their new president. Only Egyptians can determine their future.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk