x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Chilling warning about Syria

An Arab editor recounts Iranian leaders' determination to save Bashar Al Assad or ruin Syria. Other opinion topics: Arab Idol and Egypt's protests.

The Syrian conflict is at a point of no return as every party wants to impose its own will

Syria had not plunged into bloodshed yet. But the winds of the Arab Spring were already blowing in; peaceful protests swept across the country. Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, received an Arab visitor and the topic was Syria. "The option is clear: to be as it has been, or it will never be for anyone". That sentence from a top leader encapsulated Iran's stance, Ghassan Charbel wrote in yesterday's edition of the London-based Al Hayat.

"The man who told me the story was trying to explain why Hizbollah crossed into Syria to engage in the conflict there," the editor noted. "Everyone revealed their cards … we are in the midst of a Sunni-Shiite conflict, the outcome of which will determine the future regional balance."

"A few hours ago, I was at the office of Dr Ahmed El Tayeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar. I could sense his apparent concern about the Syrian conflict taking on a sectarian dimension," the writer said.

The Imam felt bitter about Hizbollah's involvement in Syria, which caused the party's significant anti-Israel credentials to go to waste. But Hizbollah is not the only party to blame. The imam had not received a convincing answer when he had a visit from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The conversation was candid. The imam of Al Azhar asked about Iran's stance on Bahrain, the three occupied UAE islands, Iran's role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. He even asked about the state of Sunnis in Iran.

But Mr Ahmadinejad responded to the difficult questions with a simplified answer that put all Iran's actions under the banner of "resistance to the usurper Zionist entity". Disagreement was difficult to hide.

The escalation in Syria prompted nations to overstep diplomatic expressions and reveal their cards. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who for a while thought that Egypt would be able to forge a link with Russia and Iran to find a way out of the crisis, realised how hard that would be following Hizbollah's intervention, and eventually took a hard line against the regime.

The continuing massacre in Syria has altered the image of nations and unveiled deeply conflicting sentiments and policies. Iran, which sought to cultivate an image of resistance, is now facing Sunni resentment. And the "axis of resistance" has lost its only Sunni link, Hamas.

Hizbollah has joined the fight in Syria in line with the notion that Syria must "be as it has been or it'll never be for anyone". Russia acts according to that notion, too. And Syrian rebels in turn want Syria to be as they want or "it'll never be for anyone".

The Doha talks agreeing to arming the rebels signalled that a point of no return has indeed been reached. The battle has metamorphosed into a regional-international conflict, the brutal consequences of which are anybody's guess.

Arab Idol generates a Palestinian victory

Palestinians have been in a festive mood since Mohammed Assaf, a 23-year Gazan singer, won Arab Idol. Columns in Jordan's newspaper Addustour mirrored this moment of joy and unity.

"I don't watch Arab Idol. But when I saw Assaf singing by chance, a big warm tear rolled down my cheek," Hilmi Al Asmar wrote. "This is probably because Palestine was present, even though through a song … or may be because the Gazan boy managed to unify Palestine," he said. "Ambiguous feelings overwhelmed me especially when I saw the boy's mother seeking a victory."

About 70 million voted for Assaf. Palestinians voted for unity and Arabs for Palestine.

"Indeed, it was a night for Palestine," the writer remarked. "The flag and kaffiyeh were raised high … Assaf unified Palestinians, both at home and in the diaspora, after feuds over interests have divided them."

Assaf sang for the kaffiyeh, the first bullet and the stone. His songs glorified the martyrs, and the echoes of his beautiful voice reached the ears of those behind bars. The Arab idol sang for freedom, dignity and love. His powerful voice harked back to Abdel Halim Hafez and the times of the revolution.

Talaat Shanaa sent "A thank you to Assaf who 'unified' us, as if we needed an emerging singer to act on behalf of politicians to bring joy to a persecuted people."

Wrong slogans risk bringing Egypt down

"We are sliding into an inescapable catastrophe, and I hope I'm wrong," argued Emad Eddine Hussein, editor of the Cairo-based newspaper Al Shorouk.

As the elite fails to use reason, Egypt is being pushed into the brink of a precipice, he wrote.

Every party has a right to protest as long as they adhere to the rules of the political game and steer clear of religious slogans.

The continuing polarisation, however, suggests that the Pandora's box has indeed been opened.

Most slogans chanted by Islamist forces last Friday in Rabia El Adawiyya Square in Cairo indicate that for them it is a matter of conflict between "believers and infidels".

"Give us a signal, and we'll bring the opposition in bags" and "crush them on June 30", were heard during the rally. A protester threatened to "splatter opponents with blood if they splatter the president with water".

Curiously enough, bloody chants were punctuated by "silmiyah, silmiyah" (peaceful, peaceful).

On the other hand, some in the opposition made a similar mistake by chanting, "Egypt can't fit us all" and "either us or them".

While Islamists can be excused for criticising the opposition as inefficient and undemocratic, branding it as "infidel" will only spell disaster.


* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni