x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Distinctions between Salafists and Muslim Brothers fail

A newspaper columnist is concerned that Salafists have developed political agendas. Other commentary in the Arabic-language press: Hizbollah's future and the Syrian regime's lack of commitment to dialogue.

Salafists are always there to blame for every atrocity in the Muslim world, while their presumed "better half" - the Muslim Brotherhood - undeservedly get away with a less unflattering appraisal, suggested Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, a columnist with the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

"Even before a single bullet was fired by the Syrian opposition, the Syrian president pointed his finger at the Salafists, accusing them of all the hideous crimes that were actually perpetrated by his own soldiers," the columnist wrote in an article yesterday titled Are the Salafists really the 'evil half'?

Before the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, young protesters in Tahrir Square accused Salafists - and the West - of supporting president Hosni Mubarak, the columnist said. Then, suddenly, those same Salafists are now accused of being "ultra-revolutionary" and leading violent protests outside the US embassy in Cairo, in reaction to a now-notorious anti-Islam film that was produced in California.

Just last week in Tunisia, Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, criticised the Salafists after he had long sung their praises. Mr Ghannouchi now calls for a tougher approach in containing the Salafist movement in his country, on the back of recent attacks against US interests in Tunisia.

"In Libya, it was worse. Salafists were kicked out of Benghazi, and their political bureau was burnt down after they were accused of orchestrating the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi and killing the ambassador," the columnist went on.

Then there was the attack last week on an Israeli detail near the Sinai border, also blamed on "Jihadist Salafist groups". The list goes on.

"But who are these Salafists in the first place?" the columnist asked.

Appellations have been used liberally, and a clear distinction between them and the Muslim Brotherhood would be hard to pin down at this point. But, one could argue that today's Salafists represent "the first stage" in a mutational process that leads to the Muslim Brotherhood.

"These are not your typical, traditional Salafists known for their hard-line stances on primarily societal questions such as the way women should dress … These are not the apolitical type, who believe in the 'guardian's rule' - that is any leader or government that honours Sharia, the Islamic law," the writer said.

Now Salafists have developed political agendas.

"They are Muslim Brothers in the making … and once they reach ideological maturity, they become full-blown Brothers," the columnist argued.


Hizbollah senses need for change in region

As the Syrian regime's military and political predicament worsens, Iran is striving to conserve its network of interests in the Middle East that has so far cost it billions of dollars, said Abdullah Iskandar, the managing editor of the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

"Sooner or later, the regime in Damascus will fall," said the writer. "Tehran is aware of this reality and is developing its plans accordingly along with Hizbollah, its military arm in Lebanon."

It's an inference that creates a substantial dilemma for the powerful Shiite party. Hizbollah was initially formed to serve a certain function and a defined purpose in Lebanon and in the region. But, with the fast changes in surrounding circumstances, it finds itself obligated to review its ideologies and its modus operandi in general.

Hizbollah was developed as a tool to serve Syrian interests in Lebanon. They separated themselves from Lebanese nationalism, protected in this by the Syrian control over the country and by significant Iranian investments.

The Assad regime is no longer capable of supporting itself, let alone supporting Hizbollah. As its monopoly of the political arena in the neighbouring state is waning, so is the subordination of the political authority in Lebanon, where bold steps have been taken in recent weeks to confirm the country's new decision to liberate itself from Syria's decades-long dominance.

Syrian officials talk among themselves

If recent news accusing Syrian authorities of arresting the prominent Syrian opposition figure Abdul Aziz Al Khair upon his return from China prove to be true, this would be a clear indication that the Assad regime didn't retain any of the lessons of the past 18 months, said the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi in its Saturday editorial.

The regime speaks of its belief in reform and confirms its preparedness for dialogue with an adequate national opposition to reach a political solution for the bloody crisis. But arresting an opposition leader raises doubts.

Mr Al Khair is a leader in the national coordination committee for forces of democratic change, an entity that suffered from the regime's oppression, but still resisted any temptations to cooperate with foreign powers that seek to interfere in Syria.

"Arresting their representatives is a sign of short-sightedness," said the daily.

"Dialogue is the only way out from the crisis. It is the safest bet to stop the bloodshed and the destruction. If the Syrian ruling party is incapable of tolerating a national internal opposition group that fulfils all the requirements it determined for a partner in the national dialogue, chances are it wouldn't be capable of dialogue with any other party than itself," concluded the editorial.

* Digest compiled by Translation Desk