x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Egyptian protests could backfire on military

The editor of an Arabic-language newspaper warns about encouraging more demonstrations. Other topics: Syria and Hizbollah.

The scene is unusual and can't be interpreted in modern political terms. That is the verdict of Ghassan Charbel, the editor of the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, about Egypt's army chief and the nation's defence minister urging the public to demonstrate in masses today.

Doing so will provide "the mandate to confront violence and potential terrorism", he wrote.

It is clear that General Abdul Fattah El Sisi is banking on the momentum that was generated in the June 30 demonstrations that led to the ouster of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi and the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood's short-lived rule.

He is also counting on the traditional prestige of the Egyptian army and its deep and far-reaching roots within society.

He is bargaining on the horror that gripped Egyptians as they watched scenes of violence from the past few weeks from Cairo to Sinai.

In his speech to the Egyptian people, Mr El Sisi didn't forget to point out that granting and withdrawing legitimacy is in the hands of the people.

He announced his preparedness to hold new elections, shooting down any hopes that supporters of Mr Morsi may be harbouring for his return to power.

"It is no simple matter for an army chief to call on 'honest Egyptians' to take to the streets to give him a mandate," the writer said.

"What this means simply is that anti-Brotherhood Egypt will be protesting against pro-Brotherhood Egypt.

"Mr El Sisi is hoping that Egyptians rallying today will prove that the volume of popular legitimacy that rejects the Muslim Brotherhood exceeds their electoral supporters," he added.

Brotherhood supporters, on the other hand, remain in the streets calling for the return of "their president" Mr Morsi.

It is evident that they have taken the decision to prevent the new authorities from trying to return the situation to normality.

Their plan is to deplete the resources of the new rulers regardless of the consequences that might have.

This may explain the army chief's decision to seek the people's help in an attempt to prove that the Muslim Brotherhood's problem is with the majority of the people and not with the army, which is merely bowing to the will of the majority and preventing further turmoil.

"Egypt will be holding its breath ahead of today's confrontation in the streets and squares.

"What if the crowds were to clash? What will the army do? Will it declare a state of emergency?

"What's next? What if the whole country were to succumb to an open civil war?" asked the writer.

Neither camp can back down now.

Egypt is heading towards a costly faceoff.

Al Assad uses Egypt as a cover for his crimes

In the first two weeks of the month of Ramadan, 1,262 Syrians were killed. The news didn't make headlines or provoke popular outrage anywhere.

"Has the Syrian revolution been overshadowed by the events of Egypt or is it simply fading away much like the Iraqi upheaval as the daily explosions killing hundreds of people became an ordinary occurrence," reflected the columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashed in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Turbulence in Egypt has indeed captured the world's attention. Negative developments in Cairo have eclipsed the Syrian war and given Bashar Al Assad's regime and its allies a chance to commit further genocide under the shroud of media obscurity.

The Assad regime didn't miss the chance to exploit the Egyptian crisis and compare it to its own bind in Syria. But there is no room for comparison. The conflict in Egypt is primarily political, whereas in Syria, it is a matter of a criminal regime that, for the past two years, has been committing the worst humanitarian crimes known to the region

The writer said Mr Al Assad's propaganda "will fade out, as the current Egyptian government is clearly distancing itself from the Assad criminal regime".

"I believe Egypt will have an important role to play in the Syrian revolution. The Egyptian army was built to be a regional player, not only a national force," he added.

In Hizbollah, everyone is part of the military

In a televised speech on Wednesday, the leader of Hizbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, denounced the European Union's decision on Monday to blacklist the group's military wing as a terrorist organisation. He said the decision did not weaken Hizbollah's resolve and that the EU would only reap failure and disappointment.

The columnist Ali Hamade wrote in the Lebanese daily Annahar: "All of Hizbollah's affected indifference doesn't change the fact that the EU decision was big and that its future repercussions would be immense."

However, the distinction between the military wing and the civilian wing within Hizbollah is an illusion. All organisations and people affiliated with the group are military in one way or another.

Those who don't serve directly on the frontlines still perform vital roles in support, logistics and in legal and illegal funding.

Hizbollah leaders themselves never distinguished between military and non-military wings. This is a well-known fact to the intelligence departments in all European countries.

Hence, Hizbollah as an organisation is now officially blacklisted as a terrorist group, which gives European governments the tools to combat it and any of its operatives and affiliates under the banner of the war on terrorism.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem