x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Saleh's destabilising presence

Ali Abdullah Saleh remains in Yemen, at his nation's peril, an Arabic language columnist writes. Other topic in today's Arabic news round-up: Egypt's constitution and Iran's challenge to the UAE.

Saleh must stop pulling strings of instability in Yemen and enjoy exit deal he was lucky to get

Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president of more than two decades who stepped down in February after one year of protests, is widely thought to be responsible for the chaos in Yemen today - and for good reason, argued Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, a columnist with the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, in an article last week.

"Even though there is no concrete evidence to corroborate this - besides the fact that most of the chaos-mongers are either his relatives, followers or allies - everyone is convinced that the hands unleashing old demons in Yemen are, indeed, Saleh's," the writer said.

The separatists in the south of Yemen are making a lot of noise; in the north, the Houthis are rising again; and in various provinces, Al Qaeda fighters are taking over whole towns, something that never happened in an Arab state before.

Given the highly volatile situation in the country, a volatility that actually predates the Arab Spring, people wonder why Mr Saleh did not stay out of Yemen for a while to give the new president, Abdrabu Mansour Hadi, a chance to get things under control?

"Well, the fact is that no country, apart from Ethiopia, agreed to take him," the writer said. "Ethiopia has long entertained friendly relations with Yemen, and the two joined efforts against Eritrea when the latter occupied the Hanish Islands [which were claimed by Yemen]."

Yet Mr Saleh did not take the Ethiopian offer. After his formal resignation in February, he took a "medical leave" - some called it a leisure trip - for a few weeks in the United States. Then he went back to his palace in the capital, Sanaa, and decided to stay there.

Still, the post-Saleh predicament in Yemen is even more complicated, the writer said. Some of Yemen's top security and military officials are Mr Saleh's close relatives. And as Mr Hadi, the new president, is trying to carry out what he politely calls "a restructuring" of the country's security bodies, he is predictably facing resistance for Mr Saleh's camp. And that resistance can come in the form of deliberately messing with stability.

"Mr Saleh must remember that he is the luckiest among all the presidents who have had their people revolt against them, although he and his sons are accused of practically the same wrongdoings."

Mr Saleh, for his part, "not only lives in complete freedom … and has access to his movable and immovable assets in Yemen and Switzerland, but he also makes comments and acts like a party leader."

Mr Saleh should remember that luck isn't a sustainable thing, the writer said. By continuing to pressure the new president, whom he himself proposed for the position, Mr Saleh may end up losing everything.

Egypt: constitution should outlast people

"A constitution was never made to reflect a one-sided view, be it upheld by the majority or the minority," wrote Hassan Hanafi, a professor of philosophy at Cairo University, in his regular commentary for the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad yesterday.

A constitution is rather made "to reflect the areas of compromise between citizens in a way that allows everyone to see part of who they are in the text," he said. And that is what the committee tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution must be set as a priority.

The polarisation currently happening between Egypt's Islamists and secularists over what the constitution should look like is completely out of place. For one, the two extremes of the spectrum are not always mutually exclusive: the notoriously secular principles of reason, scientific progress, liberty, equality and human rights are considered fundamentals in Islam.

Second, the constitution is not a place where political parties, with their short-term ideologies and agendas, come to do their numbers, the writer went on.

To fulfil its purpose, a constitution must "be an expression of the soul of the nation, the unity of its people and their historical evolution through the years."

All people must be equal citizens, with rights and duties. Sure, all Egyptians would agree with this one.

If only the devil didn't like to nestle in the details.

Iran 'violated' UAE sovereignty on islands

This past week, Iran has proven that it is not only indisposed to give back the three islands of Abu Musa and the Lesser and Greater Tunbs to the UAE, but that it is also unwilling to forge good relations with Gulf states as a whole, wrote columnist Mazen Hammad in yesterday's edition of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

In a provocative gesture, the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an official visit last week to the island of Abu Musa, marking the first time an Iranian head of state had been to the island since Iranian forces invaded it on the eve of the establishment of the UAE in 1971.

Even after the UAE recalled its ambassador to Tehran in protest, the Iranian diplomacy did not budge. A foreign ministry official cited the "Islamic Republic's historical and everlasting sovereignty" over the three islands.

"Yet the facts of history and geography tell us that the visit by the Iranian president to the occupied UAE island constitutes a flagrant violation of UAE sovereignty," the writer said.

Mr Ahmadinejad's move was condemned by the Arab League, Morocco and the Gulf Cooperation Council states. The GCC will convene in a special session this Wednesday to discuss the issue, which the UAE could take to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi