x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Moscow may host talks between Syrian regime and opposition

Moscow is preparing to host the first talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition, the Arabic newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi says. Other topics include: legitimisation of violence, US's Middle East diplomacy

The US and its Arab allies have decidedly withdrawn from the Syrian crisis. They relinquished their once-fervent enthusiasm to support the armed opposition mainly, in the US case, out of fear for Israel's security should the arms supplied fall into the hands of the radical Islamist movements involved in the revolution, said the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi in its editorial on Thursday.

"Meanwhile, Russia has been active and working towards filling the void. Gradually, it is becoming the destination of choice to the regime and the opposition alike," said the paper.

Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia announced on Wednesday that the Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem and the opposition leader Moaz Al Khatib are expected to visit Moscow in two separate visits by the end of the month.

Mr Al Khatib had met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich earlier this month after he expressed willingness to talk to representatives of the Assad regime to prevent more bloodshed.

He also met Ali Akbar Salihi, the Iranian foreign minister. Both meetings were viewed as a serious trespass on the Syrian opposition's principles.

No bilateral talks between representatives of rival sides in Syria have been announced, but the scheduled visits to Moscow later this month may be a prelude to negotiations.

"It is clear that the Syrian authorities as well as the opposition have come to the realisation that the present stalemate, due to their inability to resolve matters on the battlefield, compels them to look for alternative solutions. They both look towards Moscow as the best-suited authority in this domain," added the paper.

The opposition finally understood that its western friends had let it down and that the US and European promises have evaporated, said the paper.

But, strangely enough, the Assad regime seems heedful of a Russian monopoly of its case. It is seeking to establish a relationship with Washington based on common hostility towards Islamist groups, especially that the US listed Jabhat Annusra group as a terrorist group.

For his part, Sheikh Moaz Al Khatib realised that Washington wants his opposition coalition to become vigilantes fighting the Jabhat Annusra and other Jihadist groups that adopt Al Qaeda's ideology. This explains his initiative to dialogue with the Damascus regime.

"A dialogue between the Syrian regime and the opposition is imminent and Moscow may be the host for its first round," concluded the paper.

Violence must never be legitimised

The legitimisation of violence seems to be the order of the day in Egypt, Najeh Ibrahim, a leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah, wrote in the Cairo-based newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.

Some legitimise violence in the name of the revolution; some in the name of religion. The revolutionaries laid siege to institutions including the interior ministry, the presidential palace and the constitutional court.

The revolutionaries, according to the writer, allow themselves to set fire to the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party and Al Wafd Party, throw Molotov cocktails, disrupt people's daily activities and block traffic.

The opposite party legitimises violence on religious grounds, which is even more dangerous. Some clerics issued fatwas calling for the killing of the opposition leaders, similar to those issued against members of Islamist groups under Mubarak.

Curiously, those clerics are not eligible to issue fatwas, for there is a difference between a preacher, a politician, a party man and a Mufti. Fatwa issuance is a serious matter, particularly when it comes to lives and honour, or to those fatwas that might stir up sedition or civil war, he continued.

In politics, one must play politics; a thought ought to be challenged by a thought. When this rule is broken, the law is enforced against the offenders. Violence must not be legitimised neither on revolutionary nor religious grounds.

US's shrinking interest in the Middle East

President Obama's State of the union address indicated a shrinking interest in the Middle East, particularly Egypt- and it is going to shrink even further in the US after Mr Obama, observed Ibrahim Issa in the Cairo-based paper Al Tahrir.

The reason is pretty obvious: the US dependence on Arab oil is coming to an end as its self-sufficiency in oil and gas is round the corner.

So what did President Obama say about Egypt? He said: "In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. We cannot presume to dictate the course of change."

Notice that when Mr Obama talked about chaos and transition in the Middle East, he mentions only Egypt, no mention of Tunisia or Libya for instance, Issa noted. This is "probably because he did not expect his Brotherhood allies to display that degree of political folly and to divide the country".

Moreover, he sounded apologetic about trusting an organisation that failed to ensure stability and power-sharing in Egypt, as his intelligence expected.

The address also suggested that the US does not intend to impose change, nor back any party in Egypt, the only concern is human rights, he wrote.

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk