x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egypt's liberals are caught in a squeeze play

The chance for a civil state is dwindling away as Egypt's Islamists and army find common ground, an Arabic-language columnist says. Other topics: Hamas and Syria; Morocco and Israel.

Prospect of a civil state for Egypt recedes as liberals are squeezed by army and Islamists

"There is a contrast between what was happening in Cairo's Tahrir Square last Friday and the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Egypt," wrote Abdullah Iskandar, managing editor of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, in an article entitled Egypt's 'backstabbed' revolution.

Those hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who rallied in Tahrir Square last week were not celebrating the triumph of the Islamists in the country's first free elections in decades, the editor said. Rather, they were there to reiterate a key demand they had made this time last year: the establishment of a civil democratic state.

The way things look now, however, that demand is still not going anywhere. Islamists, from moderate to ultraconservative, currently command three quarters of the Egyptian parliament, and are showing no willingness to work towards translating the "civil state" notion - as opposed to a theocracy or a junta - into reality.

In fact, since the election results came out, the Islamists' rhetoric has become more aligned with that of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), which regularly accuses a segment of Egyptian protesters of being agents of a plot to destabilise the country.

Scaf took over presidential powers after the country's constitution was amended last year following the departure of Hosni Mubarak, president for 30 years. Egyptians voted largely in favour of those interim constitutional amendments in a referendum.

"Non-governmental organisations, liberal groups and secularists agree that the Scaf must transfer power to a civilian government without further delay," the writer noted, "and some of them want it to be held accountable for prosecuting free speech, engaging in acts of suppression and causing the death of demonstrators."

"The Islamists, for their part, are backing the way the Scaf is running the country and approve of the timeline it had laid out for power transition."

These are two antithetical approaches to the same situation, he said. Yet since Islamists are going to dominate parliament for the next five years, and there will be no significant opposition to offset that domination, liberal Egyptians are left with "the street" option.

Indeed, Egypt's youth movement has been the big loser in the elections as none of its emblematic figures won parliamentary office. It is likely, then, that it will start to re-galvanise itself by going back to Tahrir Square more often in the coming weeks, using the first anniversary of the revolution as a symbolic prompt.

Still, the efficacy of that tactic remains to be seen, the editor cautioned. The youth movement's battle "won't be easy against a Scaf that disapproves of its manners and a parliamentary authority that rejects its slogans".

Hamas, Syria heading for estrangement

The Hamas movement has left its headquarters in Syria, and Arab and international news agencies have been vying to offer various interpretations for this unexpected move, columnist Hussam Kanafani said in the Sharjah-based paper Al Khaleej.

"The movement's decision may be right to a large extent, but it is incomplete," he said. "Hamas is still present in Syria, although at a lesser level, especially when it comes to top command figures who seem to be permanently absent from Syria."

The reports are not entirely baseless. In fact, the relationship between Damascus and its Palestinian protégé has been strained since the first day of the Syrian uprising, which the Islamic movement championed.

The Syrian regime pressured Hamas to issue a statement explicitly condemning the protests. But following extensive meetings, Hamas came out with a compromise statement that supported the regime's promises of reform without denying the legitimacy of the popular demands.

Despite pressure and ultimatums, Hamas was unwavering in its position, which angered the authorities and set in motion the deterioration of the relationship.

"It seems that the divorce [between Hamas and Damascus] has reached a relatively advanced stage with talk of the definite departure from Damascus of Khaled Meshaal, the chief of the Hamas political bureau," the writer added.

Islamists work against Morocco-Israel ties

All eyes are on the new Moroccan government, the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in its Sunday editorial, not only because of the government's unique and unprecedented formation, but also because it carries the hopes of most Moroccans for overdue changes.

Activists have been demanding that the kingdom's prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, act immediately to halt any form of normalisation with Israel, especially in the commercial domain.

"These are legitimate demands," said the paper. "Especially when it comes to boycotting companies that are involved in the continuing Judaisation operations in Jerusalem."

The kingdom of Morocco has historic ties with Palestine. Its king heads the Jerusalem Committee and many Moroccans have given their life defending the holy Islamic city.

Previous Moroccan governments, banking on good relations with both the Palestinians and the Israelis, have tried to mediate. But the new Islamist-led government is expected to opt for a different course.

The peace process has collapsed due to Israel's obstinacy. It would be unreasonable for Morocco to sustain a normal relationship with the government that is responsible for the burial of the peace process.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk