x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Summit will cap a notable year

The GCC's annual meeting this month will be a time to look back, and also ahead, an Arabic-language columnist says. Other opinion excerpts touch on Russia's Syria policy and the real winner in the Iraq war.

GCC summit will be a time to reflect on a year of regional tumult - and on what comes next

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will hold its annual summit in Riyadh this month, at the end of a convulsive year in the Arab region, columnist Mohammed Al Rumaihi wrote in yesterday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

The whole idea of setting up the GCC - an economic and security cooperation body consisting of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE - arose 30 years ago during a "stifling crisis", the columnist said, referring to regime change in Iran in 1979 and the ensuing war between Iraq and post-Shah Iran.

"But the pressing circumstances at present are more critical than those of the early 1980s," he noted. "The GCC is facing a difficult bend ahead and with that the necessity to start thinking about the previously unthought of."

This is not just the year of the Arab Spring, with all the alterations it has brought. It is also the year of American withdrawal from Iraq, the columnist said, "leaving behind a huge load of factors that could trigger transformations … not least of which is an [Iraqi] civil war, according to the most pessimistic estimates, or an Iranian takeover of the country, according to the least pessimistic predictions."

The US presence in the Arabian Gulf has been a factor in regional security.

But now US power is waning in this sensitive area, and Washington will not be able to change that before the presidential election that will be held next November.

There is a need today for new approaches within the GCC and for a "political imagination" that would help the bloc face up to external and internal issues which require proactive and time-sensitive responses, the columnist said.

"The Arab Spring … looks attractive to masses thirsty for change," he added.

"And this is 'contagious' in a way. So when you try to counter it with financial easing, you may gain time, but not win the challenge."

GCC states have taken concrete steps towards political reform.

In Oman, the Shura (consultative system) was expanded.

The Bahraini government accepted the findings of the Bassiouni report - which was commissioned by the King of Bahrain to investigate allegations of human rights abuses during protests in Manama in February - and pledged to implement its recommendations.

Saudi Arabia initiated reforms in its Shura and municipal councils.

And the UAE expanded the participation of its people voting for the consultative Federal National Council.

These are steps in the right direction, the columnist said."Yet citizens feel that the process is slow-paced, and that the effects may be limited."

GCC leaders need to consider all these aspects in their upcoming summit.

Is Russia abandoning the Syrian regime?

"What Damascus has long been warned about is finally starting to materialise," columnist Mazen Hammad observed in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

"The Russians, on whom Bashar Al Assad's regime relies for support, are starting to twitch. Cracks are beginning to appear in their firm pro-Syrian stance," according to the writer.

Syria has been warned that it should not rely on the Russian veto in the UN Security Council indefinitely, as the international community is ratcheting up pressure on Damascus to stop the bloody clampdown on civilian protesters.

Last week Russia "surprised the world" when it tabled a draft decision at the Security Council regarding the situation in Syria, the writer said. Although the text does not hold the Syrian regime accountable for the killing of civilians, and observers have called it weak, it still marked a clear change in the Russian stance.

"Moscow's call on the Syrian regime's forces to cease fire alone changes the rules of the game."

There is a very recent precedent President Al Assad should have learnt from in his regime's relationship with Russia: the Libyan uprising.

Moscow stood firm behind Col Muammar Qaddafi's regime for months, but hen finally abandoned it when international pressure to do so became overwhelming.

The Russian buffer is not forever.


Israel the only winner in the US war on Iraq

Eight years, eight months and 26 days after the United States' invasion of Iraq, the US lowered its national flag in Baghdad, marking the final withdrawal of its forces, wrote Amjad Arar in the opinion pages of the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej.

The withdrawal revived the question of who benefited from the war, he wrote, and one thing is certain: the victor was not the US, and neither was it Iraq.

American taxpayers are still struggling to understand what they have got out of the death of thousands of US soldiers and the waste of billions of dollars. And that does not mention the losses of the Iraqi people, a much more gruesome story.

"But there was one party that really gained from the destruction of Iraq," the writer claimed. "And that is Israel … It got rid of an Arab and regional power."

Israel knows that the greater the instability around it, the more weapons it is entitled to get from its friends. And the potential for internal strife in Iraq now is high.

So the US may be pulling out, but it leaves behind a record number of victims and financial losses, the writer said, as well as "the world's most bizarre form of embassy", and a lot of unsolved problems.




* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi