x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Russia's position improves

As the US dithers over Syria, Russia has put itself in a good position as the observer mission goes on, an Arabic-language commentator says. Other topics: Egypt's election, and the crisis over Heglig.

As the US hesitates on Syria, Russia emerges as the best candidate to prevail in the Middle East

Between the danger of a civil war as a consequence of the arming of the Free Syrian Army, on one hand, and the annihilation of the Syrian people if weapons are withheld from them, on the other, the Obama administration has opted for "monitoring" the Syrian crisis through 30 international envoys instead of working toward a solution, columnist Walid Abi Murshed said in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

"All that to ensure that the period leading to the US presidential elections won't be disturbed by the fear of 'another Iraq' or 'another Afghanistan'," he said.

The slogan in Washington at the moment isn't democracy in Syria or the Syrian people's right to reclaim their stolen freedoms.

The main point, instead, is to avoid any foreign-policy decision that could jeopardise President Obama's credibility. In his 2008 campaign, Mr Obama vowed to bring "the boys" back home as soon as possible. But, many boys didn't return and any international development that threatens to redeploy them anywhere in the world would not be in the president's favour.

It is no secret that Washington's diplomacy in the Middle East hinges on two main considerations: the security of Israel and the security of the Gulf's oil. As long as the Syrian regime doesn't threaten either of these, military involvement in the region would not be in the best interest of America and would be a hard choice to defend before public opinion.

For the current administration, placing the ball in the United Nations' court was the lesser of two evils in this instance. But if the deployment of UN monitors in Syria, which was agreed unanimously at the Security Council, is the only common ground for Washington and Moscow with regard to the Syrian crisis, then Russia, and not the US, can be expected to reap the political rewards of this decision in the region in the future.

"For Moscow, the decision consecrated Russia's international status in the Middle East and especially its 'guaranteed' role in any solution envisaged for the Syrian conflict in the future," the writer added.

Following the Security Council resolution, there shall be no purely Arab or joint Arab-Western solution for Syria without the Russian green light. It is with this achievement that Vladimir Putin begins his renewed term as president of Russia; a claim to the inheritance of Tsarist Russia's ambitions in the Middle East.

It is likely that the coming days will prove that the halting of violence in Syria will not happen without direct Russian assistance.

This means Russia can be expected to throw its full weight behind ensuring the success of the international monitoring mission and to pressure Damascus to commit to the international decision.

Heglig crisis could turn into a war over oil

South Sudan and Sudan are sliding dramatically into the unknown, as battles rage in oil-rich Heglig, which is occupied by South Sudan troops, the Saudi newspaper said Al Watan in its editorial.

"All facts on the ground indicate that war over this vital area, where oil is the lifeblood that feeds he economies of the two countries, carry countless risks that would harm both of them," noted the paper.

Seizure of Heglig is a "red line" for the north's economy, which has already lost 75 per cent of its oil production following secession of South Sudan; Sudan used to produce 480,000 barrels per day, which earned it billions of dollars a year.

South Sudan questions Khartoum's right to Heglig, though it is not part of the 20 per cent of the country's formally disputed border area.

Whether Sudanese troops decide to attack Heglig facilities in a bid to reclaim the contested area, or the South Sudanese troops elect to destroy the facilities there, either scenario would surely lead to a huge catastrophe spilling over into both countries, the paper warned.

"It is paramount that the international community exert real pressure on South Sudan to pull out unconditionally from Heglig. At the same time, the North must commit to halting its assault on the Southern territories," the editorial concluded.


Expectations of Egypt elections promising

The Egyptian presidential elections are finally on the right track. Weeding out the "provocation" candidates was a considerable accomplishment for the judiciary, said the columnist Satei Noureddine in the Lebanese daily Assafir.

"The Muslim Brotherhood's nomination of Khairat Al Shater for the presidency was a mistake that revealed its true colours," he said. "And the nomination of the former vice president Omar Suleiman came as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' response to the Brotherhood's challenge. As for the Salafi official Hazem Abu Ismail, his nomination was a coincidental ramification of his party's unexpected winnings in parliament."

The Egyptian judiciary responded to the calls of the revolution and the rebels to avoid turning Egypt into either a religious or a military state. The verdict was unanimous in rejecting the forms of extremism that the three candidates represent.

The candidates who remain in the race are those who can identify the most with the popular awareness brought about by the revolution.

As in any democracy, the presidential elections can now be expected to peacefully reflect the natural variations.



* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk