x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Iran changes its tone

Iran's sudden soften tone toward Saudi Arabia and Bahain is a symptom of something, writes an Arabic-language commentator. Other topics: Ramadan protests in Syria, Libya and France, and Egypt's national interest.

Iran's change of heart is not so innocent

Soon after a series of verbal attacks by almost every Iranian official on the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the Iranian foreign minister surprisingly came out with "softer" statements about Riyadh and Manama, observed Tareq Homayed, editor-in-chief of the London-based Asharq Al Awsat daily.

Mr Ali Akbar Salehi had expressed his country's recognition of Saudi's role on the international scene, and blamed Iran's recent animosity on discrepancies in analysis and interpretation. He went on to express respect for Bahrain's sovereignty and commended the king's "positive" decision to start a dialogue with the people. Mr Salehi then announced his country's readiness to negotiate with the US.

"What is happening? How could Iran's foreign minister make such conflicting statements?" asked the writer. "It is hard to decipher Tehran's intention, but regardless of what they are, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Iran is fearful of the repercussions of events in Syria."

It could be said that Tehran is convinced the fall of the Assad regime is inevitable. This would mean the collapse of Iranian diplomacy, which would finally force Tehran to deal with 30-year-old internal issues.

"It is true that Iran is playing politics, but it is closer to chess, and Iran's rooks, the Assad regime, are about to buckle. Therefore, Tehran is resorting to hypocrisy," the writer concluded.

Ramadan will bring more protests in Syria

The Syrian authorities' attempts to contain the wave of protests have ranged from promises of reform to the recent dialogue charades. Although the bloodshed and the repression have not stopped, the momentum of the popular protesters is growing bigger and more expansive by the week, said Hussam Kanafani in an article for the Emirati daily Al Khaleej.

"It is no secret that the ruling regime's biggest fear nowadays is the approaching month of Ramadan, as it may turn into an occasion for daily protests. Whereas protests have so far been organised on Fridays, it is anticipated that more than one protest would be held every day during the holy month, especially following morning and evening prayers."

Damascus is running out of time. The bloody clampdown has not achieved much in the way of spreading terror among protesters, now that the fear barrier has been lifted. Meanwhile, fears of a civil or a sectarian war have emerged, although such a possibility is highly exaggerated at this time.

"Fear of sectarian strife troubles many of Syria's activists, but they are aware that the threat of strife has been the regime's winning card since day one, which it uses to derail the protests."

This is a likely pretext that Damascus could resort to in the near future to justify an extensive military operation aimed at halting the build up in momentum it foresees in Ramadan.

Libya forces the West into negotiations

At the beginning of the Libyan crisis, France was eager to make up for the scandal that befell its foreign politics due to the way it dealt with events in Tunisia and Egypt, Samih Saab suggested in an opinion article for the Lebanese daily Annahar.

France was able to persuade other EU states along with the US and the Arab League of the necessity of a military intervention to support the opposition.

But the developments following Nato's military intervention have not gone according to France's plans. The western alliance has found itself in a military and political bind. The alliance's air strikes have been unable to resolve the situation, while a ground offensive would be risky.

This gave Russia and China, which did not break ties with Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, greater margin for diplomatic manoeuvres, which helped reinstate the balance. Soon after, France, seeking an exit from the Libyan quicksand, joined the US in negotiation.

"The change of western tone towards Libya and the decision to forsake the military option demonstrate a more realistic outlook. Regardless of the real motive, it reflects a new approach to the protests that erupted six months ago in the Arab world."

This new approach to Libya proves that the West has finally conceded that each Arab state in turmoil has its particularities and that the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences cannot be generalised.

National interests should come first

It is impossible for any official to meet everyone's demands, even if he is just, noted the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram in its leader article.

There will always be those for whom justice will conflict with their interests. They might also think that the principles of justice might eventually stop them from gaining more than they deserve.

And so it is important to respect the opinion of the majority and observe their legitimate rights. Sectarian demands tend to be irrational, leading to civil disobedience, violent protests and acts of sabotage. "In turn, the interests of the public will be badly affected," the paper said.

Therefore, even if a government reshuffle is undertaken, it is unlikely to please everyone. If such steps are taken simply in order to assuage emotions and avoid media criticism, then the goals of the revolution will not be achieved as planned. Instead, the people's interests will be harmed, which means the economic situation will get even worse.

Regardless of how many governors, ministers and other senior officials are replaced, there will still be opponents who will call for more change. This begs the question: "should we put the national interests on top or succumb to close factional considerations?"

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk