x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Islamists' gains come from rivals' weaknesses

Opposition groups need to understand the real reasons for the success of Islamist groups, a commentator says. Other topics: Syria and Israel.

How can opposition to Islamists be mounted without killing democracy and the ballot box that have brought, or are going to bring, them to power in Arab countries after the Arab Spring? This is the main question Taoufik Bouachrine addressed in the second of a two-part article titled Islamists are coming: what is to be done?, in the Moroccan daily Akhbar Al Youm.

Some voices among secularists, leftists and liberals of Egypt and Tunisia urged the army to step in to "save the country from the dark rule of Islamists who were taking their countries back into the Middle Ages".

In Egypt, some called on the United States to overthrow President Mohammed Morsi or to pressure him into accepting political deals with the opposition beyond the ballot box.

In Morocco, accusations were levelled at Islamist prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane that he was seeking to establish an Islamic emirate in a bid to antagonise the state against him.

"Egypt's Mohammed Morsi, Tunisia's Rached Ghannouchi and Morocco's Abdelilah Benkirane - they all came to power by a two-wheeled carriage: the first is the wave of Arab Spring that swept away Arab dictatorship, and the second is the ballot box that earned them the highest number of votes," the journalist observed.

Islamists won elections not because they have some unparalleled platforms, but because they were the most victimised by tyranny and they stayed in touch with the people at the bottom, lying in wait for the "apple of power to rot and fall into their hands".

So how can you oppose Islamists without opposing democracy? First by accepting this political-religious component, which is part and parcel of plurality and the right to difference.

Next by reaching out to the poor majority in neighbourhoods, villages and slums. Opponents of Islamists "must cease the [political] struggle of the five-star hotels, close-door salons and elitist discourses and come down from the ivory towers".

Then by rethinking the role of religion in Arab societies. Religion is a collective asset that must not be left to a sole trend to construe it as it wishes. In lieu of demanding Islamists not to use it -- which they will never do having seen how powerfully responsive to religion people are - why cannot everybody use it to contribute to the development of Islamic thought, pull it through its stagnation, and reconcile it with democracy?

And last, opponents must couple their criticism of Islamists with providing alternative platforms and public policies seeking to better the Arab citizen's conditions, intellectually and materially.

"Islamists in the Arab world are not a magnificent power, nor are they invincible. Their strength comes from their rivals' weakness," the writer noted.


Israel will not heed Abbas's threats

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened on Thursday, in an interview with Haaretz, that he would dissolve the Palestinian Authority and invite his "friend" Benjamin Netanyahu to sit in his chair at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah if there is no progress in the peace process after the Israeli parliamentary elections slated for January 22.

"This is the tenth time President Abbas has threatened to dismantle the Authority, but he has never carried out a threat and so Mr Netanyahu will pay no heed to it," commented Abdel Bari Atwan in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

It is quite painful that such threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand over the keys to Mr Netanyahu came to pressure the latter into resuming peace negotiations, not in response to his assault on the Gaza strip and the construction of thousands of settlements units to stifle occupied Jerusalem.

Supporters of President Abbas might argue that such statements and threats seek to influence Israeli public opinion, exert pressure on prime minister Netanyahu and help his rivals in other "moderate" parties.

"Such naive arguments reveal political illiteracy, an ill-fated attempt to deceive Palestinian public opinion and arouse Israelis' sympathy in a humiliating manner," the writer said.


Russia's stance on Syria now immaterial

It is hard to understand the long, persistent attempt from Arab countries to persuade Russia to stop backing the Assad regime despite Russia making itself clear about its unwavering support for it, wrote Abdulrahman Al Rashed in the London-based Asharq Al Awsat newspaper.

"Why should Russia, to this day, be the axis of the Arab process to stop the bloodshed in Syria?" the writer asked.

President Vladimir Putin has been clear in clinging to Bashar Al Assad, providing him with weaponry and experts, and defending him in international organisations.

Since the beginning, the Gulf delegations and the Syrian opposition have tried to figure out Russia's stance: it might believe in Assad's arguments, it might be concerned about its interests or the rise of hard-line Islamists, or it might be trying to get some material gains.

Now, after more than a year of meetings, gifts and deals involving Russia, the reason does not matter. The only conclusion left is that Russia will stand by President Bashar until the end.

But even if Russia budged now, it would be already too late to be worthwhile. It has been party to the killing of 50,000 Syrians and counting, the destruction of most cities and the displacement of 3 million people, he said.

* Digest compiled by Translation Desk