x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Syria starts to look like fragmented Libya

Arabic-language editors continue to express dismay about the quagmire in Syria. Other comment topics: Israeli culinary hijacking, and Egypt's freedom of information law.

Syria could end up like Libya as more foreign powers get involved and the opposition splits

"Two years into the revolution, Syria has become the world's largest quagmire," according to Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, a columnist with the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat yesterday.

"In its bloodied mud, the struggle is on among the Iranians, the Iraqis, the Russians, Hizbollah, the Al Nusra Front, Ahrar Al Sham, Al Qaeda-linked fighters, the Kurdistan Workers' Party … as well as the Free Syrian Army - with all its brigades and battalions - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan. And now Britain and France are about to join the fray."

The big regional war that everyone is warning about is already here, he wrote.

Very soon, the death toll will climb to 100,000, with one million refugees and several million left homeless and trapped inside the country.

"City dwellers have fled to the countryside … and minorities are retiring to their native areas, and the war machine is not letting up," Al Rashed said.

With Britain and France announcing last week that they are ready to help the Syrian opposition with weapons despite an EU arms ban, Syria is clearly becoming a territory for conflicting wills on a global, and not just a regional, scale, the columnist asserted.

Writing on the same topic yesterday, Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, said Britain and France were trying to play a role which the United States traditionally takes up in such cases.

"Unwilling to enter a third war in the Middle East, after defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has entrusted the Syrian issue and the arming of the opposition to its two allies, France and Britain, just as it did in Libya," Atwan said.

"That allows Washington to go around talking about a peaceful resolution based on the nebulous Geneva protocol."

If no diplomatic or military breakthrough is reached in Syria, what is yet to come can only be worse than what has already happened, the editor suggested.

"Many people inside Syria and in the West are absolutely convinced that the Syrian regime is bound to fall, but no one seems to be able to draw a picture of what Syria would look like after that happens."

Not only is the Syrian territory going to be divided along sectarian lines, but the whole Syrian opposition will break up into factions, depending on how moderate or radical they are.

"The distinction would be made between 'moderate Islam', as represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, and 'hard-line Islam', as represented by jihadist groups," Atwan wrote.

We will also see regions dominated by the Kurds in the north, others by the Arabs in the south, and "it is not unlikely to see an autonomous Kurdish territory emerge, as has happened in Iraq", he noted.

Remember Libya?

Felafel is not an Israeli dish, Mr President

The US president, Barack Obama, is not likely to unveil a revolutionary peace proposal for the Middle East during his visit to the region this month. But his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Perez, will have something rather fresh cooked up for the US president's reception: felafel and hummus, columnist Amjad Arar wrote in yesterday's edition of the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

Israelis have gone to great lengths to make the world believe that these two Palestinian dishes belong to Israel's culinary heritage. They are trying it again.

"Robbing Palestinians of their traditional cuisine is not news," the columnist said. "The news, however, is serving this cuisine to a political figure of the stature of the US president. That means using a political event as a publicity stunt … to remedy an inferiority complex that any adventitious entity suffers from: lack of authentic cultural identity."

Before Israeli restaurants started promoting felafel and hummus as traditional Israeli dishes, garment manufacturers in Israel redesigned Palestinian women's traditional embroidered dresses for Israeli flight attendants, misleading millions of tourists in the process, he wrote.

Elderly Palestinians in rural areas still remember how the Zionists would send their agents to buy old farming tools - ploughs and olive-grinding stones - from local people to display them as Israeli tools for tourists.

Information law in Egypt faces obstacles

Ahmed Mekki, the minister of justice of Egypt, is supervising the drafting of a new freedom of information law, which will put Egypt among the few Arab countries that grant people access to government records, columnist Makram Ahmed wrote in yesterday's edition of the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram.

While the drafting of this law is in line with the provisions of the country's new constitution, international experts who have knowledge about the process say that the law will score 95 out of a possible 150 points in the chart of the criteria that define the best freedom of information law.

Despite the fact that a 13-member committee is hunkering down on the draft, the phrasing in certain parts is fluffy, leaving room for too many exceptions when it comes to "the nation's higher interests" or "national security", the columnist noted.

"The idea is to open, not bar, access to information at a reasonable turnaround speed and at a cost that does not exceed the actual cost of the transaction," the columnist wrote.

"The procedure must be simple in allowing anyone access to any information. It should also have the provision for one to take recourse to an independent judicial body when information is withheld."

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi