x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Is Russia sending a message to Syria?

By diplomatic distancing itself from the Syrian regime, Moscow may be preparing for the fall of Bashar Al Assad, an Arabic-language columnist says. Other topics: Egypt and Martin Luther King.

Observers speculate that the Syrian regime's chemical attack on the suburb of Damascus last week, which left over 1,300 people dead, couldn't have taken place without Russia's go-ahead. An offensive of such proportions requires diplomatic and political coverage from Russia. Only Russia could block any attempts at the UN Security Council to hold perpetrators accountable, said the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi in its editorial on Wednesday.

"Russia sees the predominantly Sunni Islamic peoples surrounding it as potential enemies. It deems that the only way to deal with them is excessive force, the same way it clamped down on Chechnya, the state that dared to declare its aspirations for independence from Moscow."

This has been the premise of the Syrian regime since the start of the revolution over two years ago. It was further entrenched with the unbridled support of Tehran and Moscow.

However, following the worldwide outrage at the massacre in Ghouta last week, Russia found itself compelled to encourage the Syrian regime to allow UN experts to access the area for inspection, which came as a surprise to the world. But the real surprise was the Russian foreign minister's statement in reaction to talks of a US-led strike against the Assad regime in Damascus. The Russian diplomat clearly stated that his country wouldn't get involved in a war against anyone.

"Practically, his statement was a withdrawal of the open political and military green light that Russia had extended to the Assad regime since the onset of the revolution," the paper noted.

Is it that Russia wasn't aware of the plans for a chemical attack and decided to withdraw its support for the regime to make way for its condemnation or was Moscow taken aback by Washington swift decision to strike Bashar Al Assad's forces and, in this case, it couldn't continue to link its future to Syria based on its adventurous primary decision to back Al Assad?

"Surely Russia saw its veto right at the Security Council, its foreign minister's fiery statements and its weapons deals that were paid for by the lives of Syrian civilians and people of the region as a winning cause that helped hike up its political stocks internationally at a time when the US foreign power was dwindling," the paper added.

But Russia has gone too far in exploiting the US perceived weakness. Its challenging tone at the G8 +1 summit and the international pressure that ensued after the chemical attack in Ghouta gave president Obama the final push to make a decision to respond to Moscow by striking its ally in Damascus.

Russia's failed chemical adventure in Syria may eventually turn the table against them and cost them their interests in the Middle East, the paper added.

The Brotherhood is not the biggest challenge

Egypt's interim government should realise that improving people's lives is the main challenge, not merely dealing with the Brotherhood, wrote Emad Eddine Hussein in the Cairo-based paper Al Shorouk.

Yes the Muslim Brotherhood is a political, and a may be a security challenge for the new government; but people's livelihoods remains the biggest issue.

Most people rose against the Brotherhood's rule on June 30, then took to the streets again on July 26 to give the army the mandate to fight violence and restore order so that their lives get better, according to the writer.

To be sure, the Brotherhood's supporters will continue their protests to disrupt the current government, as the former opposition did before against the Brotherhood-led government.

But this is no sufficient excuse to ignore the need to change people's lives for the better. Ordinary Egyptians will not pay heed to government's excuses; all they want is a better life.

Some people have called on passing a protest-regulating law to get the economic wheel turning. But freedom of expression and protest of all sorts must be maintained to avoid a relapse into the police state.

Much of the population is not very interested in the debate about the constitution and democracy; they are chiefly concerned about their livelihoods; they will love democracy only as much as it improves their lives.

King's dream not yet a reality despite feats

Americans have marked the 50th anniversary of what could be the most seminal speech in the modern age: Martin Luther King's "I have a dream", wrote Hussein Shobokshi in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

In 1963, Rev King, the civil rights leader of African descent who was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, delivered his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, where thousands have gathered this week to pay tribute to him and his dream.

Since 1963, much has changed in America, which now has a president of African descent, a feat that culminated a series of political, economic and social achievements for African-Americans.

Many African-Americans have served in the Senate, many others have been at the helm of big companies, big sport clubs and associations, and army chiefs of staff; there was also a woman who served as state secretary, as well as significant breakthroughs in the media and arts, he said.

Yet statistics show that there is still a huge gap, an economic one in particular, between Americans of African descent and the rest of the population; the former are more plagued by poverty, illiteracy, broken families and crimes, which analysts attribute to a lack of state's plans to involve all people in development.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk