x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Egypt-US ties are loosening

Even the military in Egypt is growing tired of imperious US pressures supported by aid money, an Arabic-language newspaper says. Other topics today: talks start in Sudan, and Hizbollah focuses on Iran.

US-Egypt ties wear thin as army council resists Washington's threats to cut out 'military aid'

Relations between the United States and Egypt are going through a "serious crisis" that all diplomatic efforts behind the scenes are so far failing to contain, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi noted in an editorial this weekend.

"In fact, it is not ruled out that the situation may get even worse over the next weeks and months," the newspaper said.

The latest sign of mounting tensions between the two nations has been a series of court cases recently filed with the Cairo criminal court against 43 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, who are accused of violating Egyptian law by providing financial means to local activists and protest groups without permission from the government.

The defendants are predominantly affiliated with two US organisations - the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute - both of which are primarily funded by the US Congress.

Last week, the Egyptian government said it would not be intimidated by US lawmakers threatening to block about $1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) in military and economic aid if Egypt presses on with the cases.

"But that's just the tip of an iceberg that has been hiding tensions dating back to the very beginning of the Egyptian revolution," according to Al Quds Al Arabi.

The US hasn't been very anxious to see the Egyptian revolution succeed and, by the same token, has not approved of the role the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) played in pushing aside then-president Hosni Mubarak, a key US and Israeli ally in the region, the newspaper said.

Clearly, the departure of Mr Mubarak did not suit the purposes of the US, Israel and several of their western friends. "The West's strategy in the region has two tenets: Israel must stay powerful, and oil prices must remain low. And Mr Mubarak's regime played a big part in bolstering that strategy," the paper said.

Mr Mubarak's regime supported "all America's wars" - in Iraq, in the Gulf ("liberation of Kuwait") and in Afghanistan. It also made sure the Camp David Accords were protected, even though that meant political normalisation with Israel and keeping its Sinai border safe.

"The US administration wanted the SCAF to continue playing this role," the newspaper argued.

In fact, right after Mr Mubarak stepped down, the SCAF was ready to play along. It proposed Omar Suleiman, the chief of intelligence under Mr Mubarak, as the face of transition. But the scheme failed under pressure from the public.

True, military aid is a potent bargaining tool the US can use against Egypt, but there may be an upside to sacrificing it.

It may be called "aid" but it is also a yoke that Egypt would be stronger and more independent without, the paper concluded.

Some hope surfaces as Sudanese talks start

The relationship between Sudan, once the largest African nation, and South Sudan, the country that seceded from it last July, has hardly improved since the separation, and oil is still the main bone of contention, the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan editorialised yesterday.

Sudan endured 50 years of internal turmoil - often descending into civil war - between its northern and southern provinces, until 2005 when a peace deal was signed in Kenya, granting the South the right to hold a referendum on secession. The southerners voted for the motion by a landslide.

Since then, officials from both sides have engaged in a war of words that sometimes threatened to escalate into war proper. Luckily, the African Union finally managed to bring the two parties to the negotiating table in Addis Ababa on Friday.

"Khartoum and its neighbour Juba have no better option than to cooperate towards the mutual benefit of their peoples," Al Bayan said. "If an armed clash breaks out between the two, it will send everything back to square one."

Secession appears to have brought little benefit in ensuring long-term stability between the two rivals, especially that the oil-rich Abyei province sits right on the border between them, the newspaper said.

But these AU-sponsored talks are a golden opportunity to settle all past accounts.

Nasrallah says Iran, not Syria, matters

During a recent public speech in Beirut, the secretary general of Hizbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, made sure to dissipate any misconceptions about his total and complete affiliation with Iran, said Tariq Homayed the editor of the pan-Arab daily Asharq Alawsat.

"Nothing new there. Anyone watching Hizbollah closely since the year 2000 would easily have come to this conclusion," the editor wrote.

Therefore, the Shiite leader's latest address to his supporters, in which he confirmed that his party has been relying on the moral, political and financial support of Iran since 1982, wasn't meant to defend the party against recent charges of drug trafficking and money laundering to support its activities.

In fact, the point he was making to his supporters was that Hizbollah's fate is linked to that of Iran, and not to that of Bashar Al Assad in Syria. He wanted to ease his public's fear of the impending fall of the Damascus regime, and to assure them that Hizbollah draws its strength only from Iran.

Mr Nasrallah was in no way admitting his utter subordination to Iran, for that is a given. He was merely announcing the irrelevance of the Syrian regime to the existence of his party. This must have surely provoked indignation from the regime in Damascus.

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk