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Chavez leaves a mixed legacy in the Middle East after supporting Palestinians - and tyrants

Some Arab writers described the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as the champion of the poor, a supporter of the Palestinian cause and an anti-imperialist, while others criticised him as a friend of Arab tyrants and an example of poor leadership. Other topics: Nouri Al Maliki, Arab uprising.

The death of Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has drawn mixed reactions from the Arab press. His defenders have described him as a champion of the poor, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and an anti-imperialist, while his critics noted that he befriended Arab tyrants and aligned himself with Iran, with a lack of rule of law and freedom at home and inefficient foreign policies.

It has been a long time since a leader died and left such an amount of grief and mourning across the world, wrote Zahra Morie in the Al Quds Al Arabi.

Chavez inspired hope for poor people and fought for social justice. Throughout his rule, he looked like an ordinary man, spoke that language and shared the public's aspirations. He was the "comandante" who defied imperialism, and put Palestine in his heart, taking an unwavering stand on the Israeli assaults on Lebanon and Gaza.

A leader par excellence, Chevez's passing is a loss to all the poor around the world and to the Palestinian cause, she noted.

In the Qatar-based paper Al Sharq, Tawfik Al Madini wrote that with the death of Chavez, the Venezuelan people, along with the Third World's peoples, have lost a steadfast, militant leader who led Latin America to integration and liberation through the "Bolivarian revolution" and "21st-century socialism".

In the same paper, Samir Al Hijjawi wrote that the late Venezuelan president can be regarded as the founder of the new Venezuelan nation, and a revolutionary dreamer who fought for a world ruled by justice. He was an adamant opponent of global capitalism, and refused to let his country be a mere banana republic or part of America's backyard.

Sari Al Qudwa noted in the Palestinian paper Al Sbah that it was Chavez who said that "Venezuela is Palestine … and Palestine is Venezuela". His stance towards the Palestinian cause was heroic and "we as Palestinians are proud of his friendship". Venezuela was the first country to welcome Palestinians without a visa and grant them residence. Chavez severed relations with Israel following its aggression in Gaza.

On the downside, Samir Attalah wrote in Asharq Al Awsat that Chavez got so carried away by his ideology that he forgot important issues such as law and freedom. Under his rule, the murder rate and cronyism soared. He squandered money on useless anti-US policies, and adopted an outdated policy that polarised people into loyalists and enemies. In the mold of Cuba's Fidel Castro, he isolated his nation from most of the world.

Hassan Haydar noted in Al Hayat that Chavez was a friend of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, who he called a martyr after his murder. He also supported Syria's Bashar Al Assad, repeated the regime's mantra that the uprising was part of an imperial conspiracy, and he was an ally to Iran.

Maliki's hypocritical stance on sectarianism

If people persist in fanning the fire of sedition and sectarianism, the days of sectarian strife will come back to Iraq, said Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki during an event marking International Women's Day on Thursday.

This is the strangest statement to come out of Iraq these days, commented the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi in an editorial.

The source of the strangeness is the fact that it is Mr Al Maliki who formed and headed a purely sectarian government in Iraq. He excluded all non-sectarian parties, thus nipping in the bud Iraq's democracy, the paper remarked.

Mr Al Maliki was given a timeframe of five years to establish a pluralist democracy, but he lost the opportunity when he relied on his party and cronies, and allied himself with Shia militias while excluding other players, triggering sweeping protests against his government.

The ongoing popular uprising in Iraq's central areas, especially in Al Anbar province, is the non-sectarian response to the Mr Al Maliki's sectarian, corrupt and domineering regime.

Mr Al Maliki praised Al Anbar protesters who tore up Iraq's sectarian map. Yet it was he who urged these maps to be redrawn, the paper said.

Iyad Allawi, head of the Al Iraqiyya coalition, has described Al Maleki as more dictatorial than former president Saddam Hussein - a sign that Mr Al Maliki's days in power are numbered.

Civil society is key after Arab uprisings

Now that the Arab Spring revolutionary youth have succeeded in toppling many figures of Arab dictatorship, it is time they move on to the next important step: participatory democracy, Bahraini writer, Ali Fakhrou, observed in the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

The transition must not be limited to representative democracy. As important as it is, representative democracy has proven to be deficient and it can to be perfected by participatory democracy, the writer opined.

The success of democracy does not come merely from the ballot box. It comes also from providing the right environment for democracy to succeed.

And the right environment is created through encouraging citizens to be involved in civic life, and instill in them a sense of civic rights and the zeal to fight for them, he observed.

Arab citizens, particularly the youth, need to get involved in all kinds of causes, be they environmental or rights-related.

The Arab movements need to understand that non-violence does not mean abandoning peaceful struggle. Democracy is measured by the freedom the regimes' opponents have, not its that of its loyalists, he pointed out.

 

* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

aezzouitni@thenational.ae

Updated: March 10, 2013 04:00 AM

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