x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Egypt does not need information minister

The appointment of a new information minister in Egypt doesn't bode well for that nation's future, says an Arabic-language editorialist. Other topics in today's excerpts: analysis on Hariri's death investigation; a weak Arab League chair; and Turkey sticks to its guns on Israel.

There is a new development in Egypt that doesn't augur well: the country has a new information minister, commented Maamoun Fandi, a columnist with the London-based Asharq al Awsat newspaper.

Egypt's prime minister, Essam Sharaf, appointed the well-known journalist Osama Heikal at the helm of the information ministry. Mr Heikal took the oath for the new post on Saturday before Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is the higher interim authority in Egypt after the revolution.

This type of news is "characteristic of dictatorships", the columnist said. "The Egyptian revolution did not happen to reinvent the structures of the old regime. Ministries like information and culture have long been employed by dictatorships … to indoctrinate the masses and make them applaud what are in effect repressive regimes."

It's strange that Egypt's post-revolution premier was unable to see anything wrong with this new appointment. Stranger still, he said the new information minister will "take good care of" Egypt's journalists and media landscape.

"In the democratic world, however, the prime minister and his cabinet fear the media, and they certainly do not take care of it, because it is the government performance watchdog."

Too many had a stake in Hariri's death

After enumerating a list of high-profile assassinations, Salim Nassar, a Lebanese journalist writing for the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, came to the conclusion that a murder which could benefit too many parties at once usually goes unsolved - as is the case of the Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.

The question "who killed Hariri?" is so hard to answer because there were too many parties who could have benefited from his demise.

Each party had a reason of its own (and not in any order of importance). They include: the United States, because the murder of a Damascus-tolerant Hariri would "expedite Syria's exit from Lebanon" so that Beirut would open up more to Washington.

Iran, because Hariri was intent to reinforce Sunni influence in Lebanon and bolster ties with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Syria, because Hariri managed to win over some of the key Sunni figures of the Syrian regime, using the power of his personal wealth.

Israel, because he marshalled his strong ties with officials in Washington, Moscow and Paris "to defend Syria and Hizbollah" and revive Arab nationalism.

Hizbollah - members of which have recently been accused - because in the context of a sectarian nation, Hariri was "a political roadblock".  And Maronites, because they thought he was "Islamising" the country.

Arab League chair is weak, by definition

The new Arab League secretary-general, Nabil El Arabi, noted in a series of statements since his appointment earlier this month that the Palestinian cause will be the priority of the pan-Arab institution going forward, wrote Amjad Arar, a columnist with the Emirati Al Khaleej newspaper.

Mr El Arabi has a fine reputation among Arabs and his words are reliable. "Yet, due to our long and bitter experience with the Arab League, we can be certain that Mr el Arabi's statements will not gain any more substance now that he is at the helm," the writer said.

"The man has a foundering Arab League on his hands… and it is more likely to suck him down than he is to pull it up."

When Amr Moussa was appointed to the same post 10 years ago, after a relatively successful tenure as foreign minister, many were optimistic that he had the potential to turn the Arab League into an efficient body that actually defends the Arab people's interests. It didn't happen, because the real issue lies in the Arab League's structure, not in the person who chairs it.

"To reform the Arab League, you must first patch up relations among Arab states," the columnist said. If good relations were to be restored among all Arabs, change in the pan-Arab institution will follow, spontaneously.

Turkey sticks to its guns on Israel apology

"Rumours circulated by local Israel media about a forthcoming rapprochement with Turkey and a visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Israel have proven groundless," wrote Mazen Hammad in the comment pages of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

Speaking at the Turkish parliament this weekend, Mr Erdogan declared that his country will not contemplate normalising relations with Israel if the latter did not apologise for the killing of nine pro-Palestinian Turks who were aboard the Gaza-bound Marmara aid flotilla last year.

"Erdogan's words were decisive: Ankara is not backing down, and will not mend fences with Israel unless its conditions are met, including an apology and reparation for the families of the victims," the writer said.

Even though the murder of the activists happened in international waters, Israel still refuses to make an apology for fear of setting a precedent, the writer said.

Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government says it would not apologise but is willing to pay compensation. Now, after recent talks between Israeli and Turkish officials stalled, Ankara is more determined to stick to its guns, which earns Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party wide Arab and Muslim admiration.


* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi