x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Geneva Conference 2 isn't only about Syria's future

Arabic press discuss Geneva Conference 2, the Pan-Arab Conference, and the need to have a real souk in Abu Dhabi.

The effects of Lebanon's failure to establish a new electoral law are exacerbated by escalated armed conflicts within the country and across the border in Syria, observed the Lebanese columnist Sleiman Takieddine in the Sharjah-based daily Al Khaleej.

Numerous were the justifications for Lebanese factions' interference in confrontations outside the Lebanese territory, but the truth is they are the direct result of allegiance to regional interests that are now overshadowing the entire Arab Middle eastern scene from Lebanon, to Iraq and Syria.

From a strategic point of view, the military participation doesn't do much to substantially alter the overall power balance in Syria. It can't fully protect the regime from collapse or cause it to collapse. However, it certainly contributes to tightening control over certain geographical areas in Syria sufficiently to disable any of the warring factions from imposing total control.

"This type of interference has become an element of the ever-growing sectarian instigation. The present map of alliances suggests the region is heading towards a long-trudging conflict or at least to a period of un-containable mutual violence."

In Iraq, and despite political arrangements to restructure power and authority, the situation is far from calm and attempts of power grabbing continue, he said.

In Lebanon, political agreements that had managed to stop armed conflicts in the past are no longer capable of bridling the sectarian fight for power.

In Syria too, the overwhelming brutality of civil strife, which gave way to all sorts of sectarian fanaticisms, dissipate any possibility for a political settlement that could satisfy all parties.

"Talks of a battle between regional axes of power are now a reality. It is a battle that goes hand in hand with the spreading sectarian divisions," he added.

The promised solution, through an international conference, only shows the volume of complexities and the interlocking of various issues in the Middle East. It sheds light on the number of active powers that have a stake in the conflict on the ground.

Mere talk about a US-Russia-led international conference gives way to discussions over issues that stretch from Iran to Israel, from Iran's regional power to Turkey and its Kurdish issue.

In addition, the agenda of an international conference focuses on economic and security issues: oil, gas, weapons market, armed equilibrium, security bases as well as ways to deal with the phenomenon of political Islam and the trans-border radical groups.

"An agenda such as this one requires a long series of negotiations that must take into account several delicate international and regional balances. It is almost certain that no tangible results would be seen anytime soon on the ground," the writer concluded.

Abu Dhabi needs a real souk, not a mall

It was good news when the Abu Dhabi Municipality announced that it had plans to build a large traditional souk right at the entrance of the city, near Al Maqta Bridge. However, reading into the details of that announcement, it appears that the project is really about another shopping centre, with a façade of Emirati heritage, commented Adel Al Rashed in the Dubai-based newspaper Al Emarat Al Youm.

"For a traditional souk to live up to its name, it has to have traditional shops, traditional prices, traditional goods and traditional smells, and none of that can be had in global brand boutiques," he wrote.

"These brands can be found in every other mall, commercial centre and airport free zone, so implanting them in the new souk will take away its traditional character."

There are several examples of souks in the Gulf and the UAE that have proven to be popular not just with the locals, but with tourists and residents as well, Al Rashed noted.

In Kuwait, you have the authentic, "brand-free" Souk Al Mubarakiya; Souk Waqif in Doha; Bab Al Bahrain in Manama, not to mention the numerous traditional markets in Oman and Dubai, the writer went on. They are all amazing places of culture and heritage.

"We really hope that the souq in Abu Dhabi would be the city's gateway to its ancient heritage," the writer said.

Conference signals Egypt's return to Arabs

After a 15 year-ban imposed by the former regime, the Pan-Arab Conference is reconvening in Cairo, wrote Fahmi Huwaidi in the Qatar-based newspaper Al Sharq.

Founded by a group of Arab intellectuals in 1990 in Beirut, the first and last time the conference convened in Egypt was in 1998, the writer said, adding "I was among the attendees, and the conference received a lukewarm response, with intelligence services tracking its activities".

"I remember that Mr Rachid Ghannouchi, founder of Tunisia's Ennahda party, was among the participants; but the security forces demanded that he leaves the country, because he was a persona non-grata."

When the idea of holding the 24th edition of the conference was put forward in the post-revolution Egypt, there was no doubt that the new Egypt would welcome it politically, but the problem organisers had faced was that most pan-Arab activists were banned from entering the country. However, the issue was sorted out and about 200 pan-Arab figures attended.

No one expect the conference to be a game-changer, but pan-Arab intellectuals meeting in Cairo sends a message that after Egypt "has returned to Egyptians, the Ummah is looking forward to Egypt returning to Arabs".

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk

translation@thenational.ae