x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Egyptian army may soon take to the streets

A stern warning to the warring political factions indicates that the military won't sit back for long, an Arabic-language writer says. Other topics: Iraq and Syria, and Iran's new leadership.

Egyptian army's warning to politicians may soon be followed by boots on the streets

The Egyptian army's strong-worded warning this week to the country's political elites, informing them that it won't allow the country to slide down a bottomless pit, might soon translate into concrete military presence on the streets, according to Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

Given the massive anti-government demonstrations planned for June 30, a preventive intervention to pre-empt clashes and maintain security is not to be ruled out in the very near future, he wrote in a column yesterday.

"Egypt is boiling. All the cards have been scrambled and bitter disputes have become business as usual. Falling back on street vibes, not on ballot boxes, has become the main meme of this phase," Atwan noted.

Not long ago, Tahrir Square was the main gauge of political and social tensions in Egypt, where demonstrators of all stripes would congregate, vent and express their demands. Now there are three other sites for that.

"There is Rabaa El Adaweya Square, the meeting point of members of the Muslim Brotherhood; there is the area outside the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis; and there is Al Abbasiya Square, where the anti-Brotherhood supporters of the opposition National Salvation Front come together."

Has the security and political situation in Egypt spun so far out of control that military intervention would be justified?

Just this week, Egypt witnessed a heinous sectarian crime when hardline Islamists stormed a house in a small village in Giza, not far from Cairo, and killed four members of a Shiite Muslim group, including their leader, and desecrated their bodies on the street, chanting bizarre slogans.

President Mohammed Morsi issued a statement condemning the crime, but is that enough?

"Egypt has witnessed many sectarian assaults before, but the monstrosity of this one has shocked millions who watched it on YouTube and some satellite channels," Mr Atwan wrote.

"The first question that comes to mind is: Who takes responsibility for what Egypt has come to? And who is providing a political cover for this sectarian violence?"

Politically, the tensions between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents are getting out of hand. Religiously, the tensions between Muslims and Christians are still there and, now, here is an unnecessary escalation between Shiites and Sunnis, the author said.

"All these highly inflammable tensions are just waiting for the strike of a match to go bang, God forbid."

If the army intervenes now, it won't be like last time, he argued.

"The army will not cede power easily after it becomes convinced that the political elites on the left, right and centre are still immature and unqualified for government."

Iraqi Shiites must stay out of Syria

During the Friends of Syria meeting last week in Doha, Arab foreign ministers criticised Hizbollah for its involvement in the Syrian civil war, fighting on the side of President Bashar Al Assad's regime against the rebels.

Later, the Iraqi minister of transport, Hadi Al Amiri, issued "a politically and diplomatically unacceptable" statement in response to the criticism, saying that thousands of Iraqi Shiites will carry arms and fight for Mr Al Assad against Al Qaeda in Syria, to protect the Shiites and their shrines there, according to the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram.

"A statement like this shows a serious lack of political tact. Nations around the world are racing against the clock to put an end to the Syrian crisis, which has taken about 100,000 lives so far," the newspaper said in an editorial yesterday.

"It would have made much more sense for the Iraqi minister to underline the crucial importance of a political solution in Syria, instead of announcing the exportation of armed Shiites, because only more death and displacement would follow."

Some parties want the conflict in Syria to shift from a civil war to a sectarian-denominational war to make the prospect of a political solution all the more elusive, the paper argued.

Pegging the war in Syria as a conflict between sects is only going to exacerbate inter-Arab frictions, it concluded.

President-elect can pull Iran together

"The election of the moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani as the sixth president of the Islamic Republic … has come to many Iranians as a shock, including myself," wrote Sanam Vakil, a Middle Eastern studies professor at John Hopkins University, in yesterday's edition of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

The election of Mr Rowhani will have "a number of tangible and symbolic effects" on Iran and Iranians, she wrote. Most importantly, Mr Rowhani might be able to bring a much-needed political unity to the country.

"This unity is essential for the Iranian people, for the reform movement, for the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and for the international community at large," Dr Vakil wrote.

The nation's unity will be useful for Mr Khamenei, who is struggling to repair the Islamic Republic's image. It will also help subdue the continuing infighting among the political elites since the 2009 presidential election.

"Only time will tell whether Mr Rowhani will deliver on his campaign promises, which include improving the economy, adopting an open foreign policy, increasing civil liberties and taking a moderate stance on the nuclear programme. Until then, just the likelihood of his ability to unify the ranks in Iran will give him valuable time," the writer said.

 

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi

AElBahi@thenational.ae