x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Egypt's juggling act

Juggling ties with both Israel and Hamas is one of the top challenges for Egypt's new rulers, an Arabic language columnist writes. Other topics today: Iran at the UN, and the suffering of Syrian children.

Juggling ties with both Israel and Hamas is one of the top challenges for Egypt's new rulers

The Israel prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, waited for more than two months before making a telltale remark: Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, has never uttered the word "Israel" since taking office in July.

Commenting on this observation in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad yesterday, Waheed Abdul Majeed, head of the Cairo-based Al Ahram Centre for Translation and Publishing, said Mr Netanyahu's words reveal "just one facet of the challenge that is facing the new Egyptian president … in dealing with Tel Aviv".

Barely a few days after the Israeli premier's statement, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), highlighted the other main facet of that challenge. Mr Abbas told the Egyptian ambassador to the PA that he was not happy about a meeting that took place a day earlier between the Egyptian prime minister, Hisham Qandil, and the Hamas leadership.

"Netanyahu's words and Abbas's frustration are two different reflections of the same foreign policy Catch 22 that the new Egypt has to deal with in terms of its relations with Israel, on the one hand, and Hamas - and, by extension, all Palestinians - on the other," the writer said.

"In fact, this dilemma is the natural result of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt … It is the kind of dilemma that catches up with any political movement that had been expressing its views left and right while in the opposition, only to face the prospect of having to handle issues with care and realism once in power."

The fact that several members of the new Egyptian cabinet are independent technocrats changes nothing about how serious that quandary is for the Muslim Brotherhood. And that is for at least two reasons.

First, the Brotherhood has for a long time taken a very public anti-Israel stance on ideological grounds and matters of principle, not just owing to political differences over the Palestinian cause or the way Israel behaves in the Middle East, the author said.

"Secondly, the Brotherhood has ascended to power in Egypt at a time of grave Palestinian division between two main factions, one of which happens to be Hamas, which is led by the Brotherhood."

So how is Egyptian diplomacy going to tread this fine line between maintaining a level of calm relations with Israel - which includes honouring a key peace agreement - while at the same time staying true to its ideals?

And even if it managed to achieve that, how about Fatah, the rulers of the PA who control the West Bank?

Many parties in the Middle East and the West are waiting for Egypt to clarify its stance vis-à-vis Israel, Hamas and the PA. It just so happens that ambiguity seems to be the only way the Brotherhood can keep all of them relatively content so far, the writer concluded.

Iran reverses roles with speech to UN

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was well advised to focus his speech at the UN General Assembly on the nuclear terrorism that the West is practising against his country, said the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi in its editorial on Thursday.

Conventionally, it was Israel that used the Iranian president's fiery speeches to portray itself as the weaker party and the victim of an annihilation scheme.

"But, this time around, it is Israel that is making the threats," said the paper.

All of a sudden, Mr Ahmadinejad became a lecturer in economics, politics and history, berating the West for its monumental debts and its divisive policies.

"It was certainly surprising that the Iranian president managed to avoid speaking about the US and British aircraft carriers and the hundreds of war vessels crowding the Arabian Gulf signalling an imminent war," added Al Quds Al Arabi.

It was unexpected of an Iranian official to use such pacified rhetoric, especially amid escalating ultimatums from a number of his compatriots in the past weeks.

"This was Mr Ahmadinejad 's last speech at the UN before the end of his term next year. For once, he chose a more conciliatory tone. But it is our conviction that his tone is an indication that the Iranians are now convinced that the war is happening. They are adamant on playing the role of victim, at least in the beginning," concluded the paper.

Terrifying testimony of Syria's children

The children of Syria are being subjected to unspeakable atrocities, leaving them suffering from severe psychological trauma. Frightening reports from refugee children reveal that they were targeted in brutal attacks and many of them witnessed their parents and siblings being mercilessly slaughtered, said columnist Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

Self-harm and involuntary bedwetting are just two of the many symptoms that these children are developing, and specialists from the Save the Children organisation are trying to help them.

Those children require emotional assistance to enable them to survive the agony and live with the gory images that have registered in their psyche. Their accounts must be recorded to allow for the prosecution of the criminals, the writer said.

"One child spoke of corpses littering the streets while dogs feasted on them after one massacre. Another recounted how a six-year-old child was sadistically tortured and killed while his parents watched."

Syrian authorities have denied Save the Children access to their territories so they can listen to the accounts of more children. But the data that has been gathered to date via human rights agencies is sufficient to paint a clear picture of the torments the children face.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk