x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Syria enters a dangerous new era

In today's Arabic-language press opinion roundup, one journalist says the speech by Syria's president opened the door to greater danger for the country. Another says the speech was like a mediation effort, but is too late. Other subjects today: Morocco's reforms and Nato's errant missiles.

Syria enters a new era fraught with danger

As expected, there was nothing new in the Syrian president's Bashar al Assad's speech on Monday. This frustrated the regime's supporters as much as its opponents, observed Tareq Homayed, the editor-in-chief of the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

The speech was a list of promises and implicit threats. And it burnt bridges with Turkey.

"This is no rhetoric for a country in crisis," the editor wrote. "This isn't an external conspiracy and to persist in accusations of treason only amplifies tensions in a society in which 1,300 people have been killed and 10,000 have been forced to flee, in addition to thousands of detainees and missing persons. And on top of all that, there are 64,000 wanted!"

The president's speech seemed to obliterate any hope that he would respond to people's demands, and to confirm that the regime is prepared to fight until the bitter end. This warranted an immediate wave of protests in many Syrian cities.

Foreign countries expressed great disappointment with the speech. Turkey's president was swift to label it as "insufficient".

Syria entered a more complicated and more precarious stage following the speech. The crisis of trust between citizens and the regime is worse now that the regime has failed to make or implement one tangible decision to alleviate tensions.

The situation is far from any peaceful solution. Anything can happen.

Assad's speech was a mediation proposal

President Bashar al Assad's tone during his Monday speech didn't exude the usual overconfidence the world has been accustomed to even in the worst of circumstances, observed the columnist Satea Noureddine in an editorial appearing in the Lebanese Assafir daily.

Mr al Assad started by saying he wanted to deny rumours that touched him personally and his family. He didn't explain what the rumours were.

He didn't offer any serious concession other than extending pardon to individuals and reinstating rights which have been missing since the 1980s. He mentioned his inclination to draft a new constitution for Syria and a new electoral law.

"The problem isn't in the presidential palace. It is rather in the street, that must stop protesting and breaching security and unity and join the national dialogue committee or the consultancy committee that will be convening again soon," the writer quoted the president saying.

"The speech was like a mediation attempt. But, alas, the offer was three month late, and during that time Syrians saw their country collapse.

"The entire world witnessed that in Damascus there is a tower, unconcerned with the persistent calls for serious measures that could save Syria from an even greater catastrophe if the tower itself were to collapse."

Cautious welcome for Morocco reforms

Described as politically advanced, the draft constitution proposed by King Mohammed VI of Morocco has been welcomed by western governments and media, observed Mazen Hammad in a commentary for the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

Yet some political forces, led by the February 20 movement, claim the plan is not enough to achieve the parliamentary monarchy Moroccans have demanded.

King Juan Carlos of Spain, a model parliamentary monarch to many Moroccans, hailed this step, while the European Union called the draft constitution an important measure as well as a firm commitment to democracy and respect for human rights.

Although Mohammed VI approved many constitutional reforms waiving some of his absolute powers, thousands of Moroccans rallied to express their dissatisfaction, especially with the king's proposal to retain control over security, military and religious matters. They urged him to relinquish such executive capacities to elected bodies.

Many observers, however, believe that the mere fact of delegating some of the king's powers to the government is a prelude to continuing democratisation, potentially leading to full parliamentary monarchy.

The opposition said it would continue demanding more changes. Sceptics also pointed out that the monarchy is deeply entrenched and has a long history of cosmetic reforms.

Nato mistakes causing rise in civilian toll

On Monday, Nato air raids in Libya killed 15 civilians, among them three children, when they targeted what was believed to be a military location for Col Muammar Qaddafi. Nato later admitted the mistake, which was due to a glitch in programming at missile launching pads.

The pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in its editorial that "It is evident that Nato is targeting residential homes in the hope of physically assassinating the Libyan leader, based on intelligence information. But all such assassination attempts have so far been unsuccessful."

UN Security Council resolution 1973 does not provide for assassination, but the states participating in the military operations interpret the resolution otherwise.

Nato commanders stated recently that they would be intensifying their military operations in Libya to put an end to the current military deadlock. For their part, Nato spokesmen confirmed that they are avoiding the killing of civilians, but facts show that they have killed more than 20 civilians in Tripoli in less than three days.

"That Nato hits and raids are accurate is a lie that was uncovered in Afghanistan," the daily said. "Those killed by Nato … are martyrs. They deserve our sympathy just as much as the martyrs killed by the Qaddafi forces in Misurata and Benghazi."

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem