x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Reform Arab League or shut it down

Editorial-writers and columnists in the Arabic press comment on the GCC's role in Yemen, Syria's problems, the future of the Arab League, and the Nakba events.

Nabil al Arabi, the Egyptian foreign minister, was unanimously elected Secretary General of the Arab League on Sunday, to succeed Amr Moussa. This is good news, commented Abdelbari Atwan, the editor of the London-based Al Quds al Arabi newspaper.

We can hope the new Arab League chief will cure the institution from its 30-year-long atrophy, induced by a weak leadership dominated by the United States' agenda for the region, the editor said.

"It is reassuring that the post has remained in Egyptian hands, especially at this time of transition from subservience and dependency to awakening and full, people-driven transformation."

It is a mixed feeling, though. The Arab League, which has failed to take joint action, needs someone like Mr al Arabi, an official with an assertive, respectable character. But Egyptian diplomacy will lose him. In his short stint as foreign minister, he proved to be a catalyst for major change on the regional diplomatic landscape.

From Mr al Arabi's acceptance speech you could tell that he was not all that excited about chairing a failure of an institution. His is a colossal duty indeed: he must initiate a complete staff and strategy overhaul, a new image building process, and a new member state representation formula.

Our simple advice is: Revamp it, and if you can't, shut it down.

Israeli crimes fall on deaf Western ears

"What a disgrace!" the Emirati Al Bayan newspaper wrote in its editorial, referring to the "terrible silence" of the international community following the Israeli "massacre" of Palestinian protesters on Lebanese, Syrian and occupied Palestinian territories on Nakba Day last Sunday.

"All these spokespeople talked about was self-restraint, but between who and who exactly? Between occupiers armed to the teeth and unarmed claimants of a due right?" the newspaper demanded.

"The questions that the United Nations must answer, in its capacity as guardian of world peace and safety, is: how come Israeli armed troops were stationed in the buffer area separating the occupied land from the liberated parts of the Golan Heights?

"And how did the UN peacekeeping force there allow live ammunition to be fired at a group of unarmed protesters deprived, on the international community's watch, of the most basic of rights - their right of return to their homeland?"

The newspaper called on US President Barack Obama to address the issue in his speech on Thursday "instead of listing again all the things that the Palestinians ought to be doing to ensure Israel's security - this same Israel that, for some reason, gets away with everything."

Syria must learn from '100-guinea' tale

Tariq al Homayed, the editor of the pan-Arab Asharq al Awsat newspaper, retold the old story of an elderly man who was brought to court for committing a crime.

Considering the defendant's age, the judge allowed him to choose his sentence: pay 100 gold guineas, endure 100 lashes, or eat 100 hot peppers.

Being stingy, the old man said: "The 100 guineas are out of the question, and I'm too old to bear the lashes. I can do the hot peppers."

But when he got to pepper 60, he felt his head was going to explode. So he asked if he could be lashed instead. But before lash 40, he could not take the pain any more, and ended up paying the 100 guineas.

This tale should have taught the regimes in Libya, Yemen and Syria a good lesson, the editor wrote. When protests erupted in Syria, President Bashar al Assad's regime had a couple of options. The first would have been to initiate quick and observable reforms - which didn't happen. Second, there was the security intervention option, which always runs the risk of resulting in a massive death toll. The third option would have been to ignite an international conflict with Israel at the border of the Golan Heights, the south of Lebanon or the Gaza Strip.

The last two options have failed already. And no one is taking guineas anymore.

GCC must pull out of Yemen mediation

"Qatar did the right thing when it withdrew from the Gulf Cooperation Council's mediation initiative to defuse the crisis in Yemen. The Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's constant sleight of hand and subterfuge left no other choice. He accepted then rejected the initiative a thousand times over," wrote Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari Al Watan newspaper.

"The other GCC states must follow suit and lay this initiative to rest once and for all. The Yemeni president is mistaken if he believes that he will salvage his regime by acting in this manner."

The rebels and the opposition in Yemen have rejected the GCC initiative anyway; they feel that it provides a lifeboat for a sinking president who must be held accountable for the murders that have been perpetrated in the country and for the wealth he has accumulated illegally.

More recently, other voices within the GCC itself, namely in the Kuwaiti parliament, have expressed the need to call off the initiative.

"If Saleh does not make a final decision about stepping down any time soon … millions of angry protesters will at any moment decide to push their way to the presidential palace, which might result in carnage," the columnist concluded.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi