x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Egypt returns to the Arab fold

More than three decades after Anwar Sadat's treaty with Israel, it's good to see Egypt changing course, a commentator says. Other topics: Palestinian independence and Russia's embarrassing ally.

Re-opening schools to young Syrians shows how Egypt is returning to Arab solidarity

By deciding to open Egypt's public schools to young Syrians living there, President Mohammed Morsi has shown the kind of leadership that vanished during the old regime, which elected to be a strategic asset to Israel, Fahmi Huwaidi wrote in the Cairo-based paper Al Shorouk.

The school decision, a sign of solidarity with Syrians, is part of a regional-status campaign that might seem premature, considering that the president's key mission must be setting Egypt back on its feet economically. But the ordeal of the Syrian people makes it understandable that Mr Morsi has also looked abroad.

Egypt's keenness to regain its leadership role was sensed in its proposal to form a regional contact group, comprising Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to broker peace in Syria. It was also recently seen in the agreement of Egyptian, Tunisian and Libyan foreign ministers to promote cooperation, and in Mr Morsi's visits to China and Iran.

"These are good moves worthy of acclaim and celebration," the writer commented.

To be sure, Egypt's re-entry to the regional fold will not be easy to accomplish. This change will not be received gladly by those who have sought to isolate Egypt, because they know what it means for Egypt to be at the centre of Arab affairs.

Israeli leaders regarded Anwar Sadat's 1979 peace treaty with Israel as a rebirth of the Jewish state, not just because Egypt recognised Israel, but also because it left the Arab fold and its leadership position among Arabs.

Palestinian students used to be received in Egypt with open arms, and treated just like their Egyptian counterparts.

This is so not only because of a protocol signed by Arab League states in 1964, but also because Egypt, back then, took pride in its sense of belonging to the Arab and Islamic worlds.

But that changed after 1979, as Egypt faded away under Sadat, who rose up against the policies of his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser when he toed the line of the West and said that "99 per cent of the cards" were in the hands of the US.

That was, the writer said, a "proclamation of political bankruptcy and a waving of the white flag".

"Mr Morsi's decision has encouraged me to call on him to reconsider the sanctions Sadat inflicted on Palestinians, particularly students who were denied equality with their Egyptian peers at schools and universities," the writer noted.

Palestinian students, and especially Gazans who have been deprived of financial resources following the Israeli blockade and invasion, have been burdened with expensive fees and all sorts of difficulties.

This has led to the number of Palestinian students in Egypt dropping to 10,000, from a high point of 20,000 previously.

Russia embarrassed by its Syrian allies

With no political solution on the horizon guaranteeing an end to the killings, the Syrian conflict threatens to drag on, wrote Abdullah Iskandar, managing editor of the London-based daily Al Hayat.

"On one hand, the behaviour of the regime in itself testifies to its incapacity to manage any political initiatives or to rule the country on pre-revolution terms. On the other hand, the international community, in its efforts to acknowledge and protect Russia's interests in the Middle East, is still unable to reach a satisfactory resolution for the crisis," he wrote.

But the danger to Russian interests comes from its own allies, namely Iran and the Syrian regime, as much as it comes from competing western powers.

Moscow finds itself increasingly embarrassed by its allies' behaviour, especially that of the Assad regime in Damascus. It has to find a way to convince the regime to forsake the military solution and the use of excessive force.

Recent official statements from Moscow suggest a push for the adoption of the Geneva Agreement, which was reached in June and calls for a transition in Syria without demanding the departure of President Bashar Al Assad.

But such an agreement, which seeks to reconcile Moscow's strategic interests with the regime's desire to stay in power, couldn't begin to hope to end the tragedy unless it includes provisions for enforcement and accountability.

Palestinians have the right to independence

In the heated race to the White House, both the Republican and Democrat contenders have been using every card at their disposal to win favour with voters and the lobbies that will play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome, most importantly the Zionist lobby, said the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan in its Sunday editorial.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been striving to prove their utter loyalty to Israel, supporting its flagrant violations of the Palestinian territories and its repeated aggression against Palestinians.

"Available data at present indicates that Arabs and Muslims would have no vested interest in the victory of either of the candidates as long as the policies are unchanging and the bias remains," the paper said.

The truth is that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. No number of diplomatic statements can change that.

As successive US administrations have proved unhelpful to the Palestinian cause, the Palestinians would be better advised to seek other international venues and rally support at the UN General Assembly.

The Palestinians are entitled to live in an independent and sovereign state under the 1967 borders. The day will come when the Palestinian flag proudly flutters at the UN, the paper said.

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk