x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Final battle for Damascus is near

An Arabic-language commentator says developments in Syria bode well for an opposition victory. Other topics: Bassem Youssef and justifications for killing.

Political and military developments in Syria show the final battle for Damascus is near

A series of developments on the Syrian front promises to bring the bloody conflict that has gripped the country for over two years to an end in the foreseeable future, wrote Hussein Abdul Aziz, a Syrian writer, in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat yesterday.

The first of these developments has been the formation of a "provisional government" in the territories controlled by armed rebels, the writer said.

"This is a vital development indeed, as it will eventually lead to the better management of relief and humanitarian efforts, not only giving the local populations a chance to stay in their homes, but also encouraging those who have left to return."

On a more strategic level, this provisional administration will contribute to field military planning, with civilian officials directly engaging the fighters and "discriminating between true rebels and radical Islamists who have objectives that go beyond the Syrian borders", Abdul Aziz noted.

If this "government" succeeds in weeding out or, at least, taming those indoctrinated Islamist fighters, it will be able to convince the West to support the revolution with weapons, he said. That will certainly speed up the downfall of President Bashar Al Assad.

On the diplomatic level, the Arab League's decision last month to hand over Syria's empty seat in the organisation to the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has been a breakthrough.

Besides driving home a symbolic point - which is that the Syrian regime is no longer worthy of representing Syria - the Arab League's move formalises the status of the coalition as the only representative entity of all Syrians, the writer said.

"It is also a necessary step for the Coalition to be able to demand diplomatic representation in international organisations such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and - with a lot more difficulty, for sure - the United Nations, where the Russian veto is on call."

Another significant development took place recently in Cairo, with the so-called Alawite Opposition Conference, held under the motto of "We are all Syrians … towards a nation for all".

About 200 Alawite opponents of Mr Al Assad, a member of the Muslim Alawite sect himself, gathered to spread a message of unity and pre-empt the sectarian strife that many observers agree will follow his downfall, and will particularly target the Alawites.

Though some might think of it as self-serving, the columnist said that the conference had made a key point: that the revolution is stronger when Syrians are united under one nation, not under a sect.

Adding these developments to the rebels' massive military sway in the north and increasing control in the south near the Jordanian border, one cannot help but notice that a big change is zeroing in on Damascus, the writer said.

How can clerics justify killing without mercy?

How can a cleric urge the killing of a large number of innocent people of different faiths without any compunction? Alaa Aswani asked this question in the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.

Following the fall of Granada in 1492 to the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella, Arabs and Muslims were forced to choose between baptism and death. Thousands who refused Christianity were killed, while many converted.

Then a Dominican monk named Baleda urged that the Arabs who had become Christian should also be beheaded. It was impossible, he thought, to know whether they were genuinely Christian, so he recommended that they be presented before Jesus to decide that. For that to happen, obviously, they had to be dead.

The Catholic Church was enthusiastic about the idea, but the government refused it to avoid any escalation, and instead expelled the Arabs from Spain.

Having a particular faith does not necessarily make people more humane, Aswani noted. It is the way a religion is understood that determines behaviour.

There is no difference between Baleda and Osama bin Laden. Both believed they were commissioned by God to carry out His will. Bin Laden could not be convinced that there are millions in the West who condemn the US army's crimes, and Baleda could not be convinced that his victims could be good citizens.

Jailing Youssef will backfire on Morsi

The Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef goes on air only once a week. But that was enough to anger President Mohammed Morsi, who took office after a revolution whose motto was "freedom and dignity", Abdulrahman Al Rashed wrote in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Mr Morsi has made the revolution a subject of mockery because he cannot tolerate a weekly satire show and he persecutes journalists more than Hosni Mubarak did, the writer said.

Mr Morsi frequently promised that he would maintain freedoms. He would use a famous quote by Caliph Omar: "If I deviate from the right path, correct me." But it was not long before Mr Morsi grew impatient with the media.

"There is a newspaper crossing the line, and I have not closed it down yet," he said in one speech.

Mr Morsi's complaints against journalists in six months number four times those recorded under the 30-year rule of Mr Mubarak, and 24 times more than under Anwar Al Sadat.

Youssef was accused of insulting Islam and Mr Morsi. Yet people are not so naive as to believe this. This is about a television show viewed by millions of people.

Youssef is probably more popular than the president, so jailing or banning him will only backfire on Mr Morsi.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk