x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Egyptian coup an 'error of judgement'

Removing Mohammed Morsi was not the panacea for Egypt's problems, an Arabic-language columnist notes. Other topics: Iran and Syria.

Warts and all, Morsi was an elected president and army's coup is a dire 'error of judgement'

General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the chief commander of the Egyptian armed forces, has clearly "underestimated" the strength of the Islamic movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood when he - and the leaders of the National Salvation Front - orchestrated the army coup that pushed President Mohammed Morsi out of office last week, according to Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

"The problem is that this error of judgement will cost Egypt its stability, the blood of its citizens and its national unity, which is a disaster by all measures," the editor wrote in a front-page column on Saturday titled Islamists will come back in Egypt as coup turns into chaos.

Mr Morsi, who has reportedly been placed under house arrest, has undeniably made blunders during his one-year tenure, Mr Atwan conceded, but even the gravest of his mistakes is dwarfed by the army's current transgression, which might sink the country into "a bloodbath that could take hundreds, if not thousands, of lives".

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in public squares in several Egyptian provinces, demanding the reinstatement of their president, threatening to resort to violence if their demand is unmet, the editor said.

"Sure, the armed forces have all the weapons, the tanks and the choppers, but what is the use for these things in the face of massive, angry crowds? Will the army kill 100 of them, 200, 2,000, 10,000? What for? Because they are demonstrating to re-establish the power they have earned through ballot boxes in a free and fair election?"

The West, "hypocritical as ever", decided to condone this "veritable coup against democratic process", Mr Atwan observed. Never mind that the Arab world has been lectured for decades about the virtues of democracy and the critical importance of accepting election results.

Abdul Rahman Al Rashid, a regular contributor to the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, took a considerably milder stance on the army's ousting of the Egyptian president - describing the military as the "guardian of the second revolution" - but he warned the generals against resting on their laurels.

"One fears that the revolutionaries of today would forget the lessons of yesterday and repeat the same mistake of the Brotherhood, which was to nap on the downy cushion of 'popular support'," Mr Al Rashid wrote yesterday.

"People are expecting Mr Morsi's ouster to be a panacea for everything … But, just as they have come out to get him after only one year in office, they might well come back in a year, or less, chanting 'down with this president', 'long live that president'."

Is Iran's Rouhani the best hope so far?

Iran has just come out of eight years of hardline leadership, making most observers agree that the election of Hassan Rouhani as president is at least "a noteworthy development" and at best "a watershed sign", wrote columnist Abdullah Jumaa Al Haj in yesterday's edition of the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

"Some see in Mr Rouhani's election the beginning of a long-awaited shift from hardline religious ideology to nation-driven thinking, favouring openness, moderation, democracy and acceptance of a variety of political ideas and trends," he wrote.

The more optimistic observers see Mr Rouhani as a true "reformist" who might be willing to fight huge, but necessary, economic and political battles against the sturdy, hardline entourage of the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, the writer said.

Even the more cautious ones, who consider the complexity of Iran's domestic issues to be among the major hurdles for any reform effort, have qualified as "encouraging" Mr Rouhani's vision for Iran's foreign policy.

Based on his recent consultations with reformist former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, some expect Mr Rouhani to include a good number of moderate reformists in his government, with some representation of women among his staff, the writer said.

This has given the international community much to look forward to, he noted in conclusion.

Prospect of hunger adds to Syria's woes

Four million Syrians, or one-fifth of the population, cannot produce or buy enough food to survive - a situation that is likely to worsen if the country's grinding civil war continues into next year - the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram said in an editorial yesterday.

Citing a joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme, the newspaper said that Syria needs to import 15 million tonnes of wheat for the 2013-14 season, after a 40 per cent decline in the annual harvest compared to pre-conflict levels.

"This report comes to shed light on yet another dimension of the continuing tragedy in Syria … while there are still no omens that it will come to a resolution soon, as the internal fighting keeps taking scores of lives each day," the newspaper said.

A report from the Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOGR) underlined gross violations by President Bashar Al Assad's regime and its allies against civilians, as regime forces continue indiscriminate bombing of residential areas, Al Ahram noted.

Besides, the usual artillery, tank shells and helicopter bombs, members of the armed opposition told AOGR observers that short-range, surface-to-surface missiles are increasingly being used.

The editorial asked: how is that ever going to solve the crisis?

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi