x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egypt's army council must stay away from the run-off polls

Egypt's army council must stay away from the run-off polls, even if an Islamist is elected, writes an Arabic language columnist. Other topics in today's Arabic news roundup: even in its absence Israel dominates Iran talks, and President Carter on Palestine.

Now that the first round of the Egyptian presidential election is over, with two candidates clearly ahead of the pack, Egyptians are faced with the ultimate choice during the run-off election scheduled for June 16 and 17, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi in a column at the weekend.

While the results will not be official until Tuesday, the vote count shows that it is almost certain that the second and final round will be contested between Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander who later served as prime minister under President Hosni Mubarak at the height of the uprising that unseated him.

The Egyptian people will have to choose now between a conservatism that can potentially be extreme, given that Mr Morsi has come to represent not just moderate Islamists but also hard-line Salafists; and a figure from the past, Mr Shafiq, who may act as a facilitator of the old guard's comeback, the editor said.

Whatever the outcome of that ultimate choice, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) has a duty to respect it, the editor said.

"Scaf must be a fair arbiter and have no bias in favour of this or against that candidate, for there is a general perception that Scaf supports Ahmed Shafiq."

In fact, nobody really knows how Mr Shafiq made it to second place in the first round, beating candidates who, until a few days ago, were deemed favourites. Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister and head of the Arab League, was clearly in a better place to garner more votes, yet so far it looks like he is settling for fifth place.

In this context, the recent statements by Omar Suleiman, the chief of intelligence under the old regime, give reason for concern, the editor went on. "Mr Suleiman told Jihad Al Khazen, our colleague from Al Hayat newspaper, that the next president of Egypt should not be an Islamist, and if the Egyptian people elect an Islamist candidate into office, an army coup would not be unlikely."

In 1991, Algerian generals sabotaged the results of the polls to prevent the Islamists from gaining a majority in parliament, the editor recalled. Years of civil unrest ensued, costing the country 200,000 lives and a decade worth of development.

Hopefully, the second round will go smoothly, with as few irregularities as the previous round. If it does, the results will strictly hinge on each candidate's ability to convert the supporters of Hamdeen Sabahi, the dark-horse Nasserist candidate, and Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the independent Islamist who was considered a top seed.

Both candidates are expected to rank in third and fourth place, respectively.


Iran talks: too much of Israel, no Arab views

Israel did not attend the talks with Iran in Baghdad last week, yet it dominated all the sessions as if it were there, wrote columnist Mostafa Al Zein in yesterday's edition of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

"Israel has laid down its own specific requirements with a view to a prospective settlement, as if it were the only party concerned when it comes to Iran's [nuclear programme]," he said.

As stated by its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel wants uranium enrichment to completely stop in Iran, the nuclear facility in Qom to be dismantled and a permanent monitoring of other facilities across the country to be carried out.

The talks were attended by delegates from the US, the EU, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China to find a way out of the regional crisis that Iran's nuclear programme is causing. The talks will be resumed in Moscow in mid-June.

"So the Arabs were completely absent … although their concern with Iran becoming a regional superpower is by no means secondary to Israel's," the writer said. "And you can see how this Arab unease plays out in … the struggle for influence in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, and how it fuels a regional arms race."

West-Iran talks are really about influence sharing in the Arab world, the writer concluded, a deal you can't have the Arabs partake in.

President Carter again speaks for Palestine

It seems that the former US president Jimmy Carter is intent on outperforming all those western senior officials "whose conscience awakens" after they leave office, commented Amjad Arar in the UAE-based newspaper Al Khaleej yesterday.

In a statement following his meeting last week with the Sheikh of Al Azhar, the prestigious Sunni establishment for Islamic scholarship in Cairo, Mr Carter criticised Israeli policies against the Palestinians and Washington's unconditional support for Israel, according to the writer.

Mr Carter, who brokered the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, also went on the record about the role of the Zionist lobby in US politics, noting that the lobby is working to prevent the incumbent US president, Barack Obama, from clinching a second term at the White House. Mr Carter said the Palestinian cause was gnawing at humanity's conscience.

Still, these strong words by Mr Carter, may not even be "as eloquent" as the declarations he made in his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, the writer said.

"In the book, he did not simply liken racism in Israel to the one that was practiced in South Africa; he actually described racism in Israel as a worse form of racism."


* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi