x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Editorials in Arabic newspapers on speeches in Morocco and Syria

Editorials in Arabic newspapers also comment on corruption in the palace of the former president of Tunisa, tensions in Sudan and uncertainty about the return of the president of Yemen.

Morocco and Syria: speeches poles apart

There was three days between the speech of King Mohammed VI of Morocco and that of the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, yet the difference between the two was huge, wrote Othman Mirghani, a columnist with the pan-Arab Asharq al Awsat newspaper.

"On the one hand, we've listened to a king using the phrase 'my dear people' five times as he addressed his nation, describing himself as his people's 'first servant', before announcing concrete and detailed constitutional reforms, expanding the prerogatives of the government and the parliament and promoting the independence of the judiciary.

"On the other, we've listened to President Al Assad's speech at the University of Damascus, in which he alternated calls for national dialogue and talk about conspirators and vandals, without presenting concrete proposals or clarifying the picture, rather leaving everything up in the air."

The conditions in these two countries being so different, some might suggest that comparing these speeches is inappropriate. Yet,there are cogent reasons for this comparison. Both leaders came to power around the same time - at the turn of the 21st century - and amid similar fanfare about "new and young leadership" carrying the promise of reform, which both nations needed badly.

Until now, if there is any reform process under way, it is happening in Morocco, not Syria.


Ben Ali's former butler spills the beans

"The latest blow that the deposed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had to sustain came from his cook, who served the presidential family for 23 years," reported the Emirati Al Bayan newspaper.

Reminiscent of the stab Julius Caesar received from his closest confidant, Brutus, what Lotfi Ben Chrouda had to say about his former master was intriguing to French publishers.

A few days ago, Michel Lafon, one of France's prominent publishing houses, released a 185-page autobiographical account of Mr Chrouda's experience at the palace of the Ben Ali family.

First hired as a cook, then promoted to butler, Mr Chrouda says his job became much more than that, at times involving the handling of large envelopes stuffed with cash, according to Al Bayan, which cautioned that the author's stories must be taken with a pinch of salt.

In the book, Mr Chrouda alleges that Leila Trabelsi, Mr Ben Ali's wife, treated the servants like "dogs", and owned an apartment where she used to date her lover. Describing Mr Ben Ali's feelings for his wife, the book says the president was completely subservient to her and loved her madly.

According to Mr Chrouda's account of the last hours of Mr Ben Ali in power, the embattled president screamed: "My wife and the Trabelsis betrayed me and scurried away like thieves."


Abyei is not the only landmine in Sudan

The recently announced agreement between Sudan and the government of South Sudan regarding the disputed Abyei region has provisionally defused one landmine in the minefield that still threatens stability in other parts of the country, noted the Sharjah-based Al Khaleej newspaper in its editorial.

Sudan still suffers from "migrant wars" and is still prey to rabble-rousing rhetoric that sometimes borders on racism. At any rate, the agreement to de-weaponise Abyei is a positive step to temporarily calm down the stakeholders ahead of a sensitive milestone - the official declaration of the secession of the South Sudan from Khartoum on July 9.

But considering the importance of the oil-rich Abyei province for both sides, this agreement is unlikely to hold for very long.

"Up till now, there is no reason to believe that either party would be willing to give up its claim."

Abyei is not the only land mine ready to go off in Sudan. Khartoum is seriously worried about Kordofan, the large central province, which was previously divided into three states, and where the north sees a rebellion in the works.

"Add Kordofan to the festering Darfur crisis, and you've got too many threats on your hands. One hopes that all stakeholders in Sudan will use their good sense and salvage the country from fragmentation."


Yemen dilemma: to return or not return

There are mixed reports about the health of the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, three weeks after he was flown to a Saudi hospital, having been wounded in an attack that targeted the presidential palace in Sana'a and left 12 people dead, the London-based Al Quds al Arabi newspaper stated in its editorial.

Since the day he was admitted to a Saudi military hospital, where he received treatment for burns and underwent surgery to remove shrapnel said to have penetrated his chest, Mr Saleh has not appeared in any television report or properly credited picture.

Members of his entourage, especially his deputy information minister Abdo al Jundi, confirm that he is in good shape. In fact, Mr al Jundi went so far as to say that the presidential plane was waiting to take Mr Saleh back home in a few days.

Conversely, a Yemeni official recently told the AFP news agency in Riyadh that the president's health is not making any progress.

"But this haze surrounding the health of the Yemeni president does not translate into uncertainty in Yemeni streets. The minds of Yemenis are made up, and they don't want the president back."

This said, Mr Saleh is "not an easy man", and he will buy time for as long as he can.


* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi