x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Syrian regime bought itself time

Arabic newspapers say new Tunisian officials strike a balance between modernism and conservatism. Topics include the Arab League's protocols and GCC summit and the regional unrest.

With the signing of the Arab League's protocol, the Syrian regime bought itself time

The Syrian authorities' decision to sign the protocol to allow Arab League observers into the country has saved the Arab League as well as the Syrian regime. At the same time, it came as a shock to the Syrian opposition that was wagering on Arab support in its quest to impose democratic change, said the editorial of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi on Tuesday.

The Syrian protesters may have been right when they raised banners accusing the Arab League of being an accomplice in the crimes perpetrated against them through their proposed initiatives that are often postponed and modified, allowing the regime ample time to reshuffle its cards and impose its own conditions, the paper suggested.

"The Arab foreign ministers got themselves into quite the conundrum with their successive meetings on Syria and their unsuccessful measures to isolate it," said the editorial. "They froze Syria's membership in the Arab League and subjected it to harsh economic and financial sanctions only to realise that their actions had a limited effect and they affect the Syrian people more than the regime itself."

The threat to stop commercial flights to Damascus wasn't implemented and the economic sanctions were nothing but wasted ink as Syria's direct neighbours, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, didn't abide by them.

Even the League's threat to transfer the Syrian issue to the UN Security Council was doubtful since a previous similar effort by the UK and France to impose severe sanctions on Syria was crushed by the Russian-Chinese veto. Nothing guarantees that any Arab effort in that direction would meet a better fate.

At the same time, the US has no intention to militarily suppress the Assad regime since its command is incapable of promoting the idea of a new war to its public that is already worn out with the economic crisis following the Bush administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"By agreeing to the Arab League's protocol, even if momentarily, the Syrian regime has won this round and dealt a hard blow to the opposition. Now the regime has a period of two months at least to rewind before the observers' mission is over," added the paper.

But this doesn't mean that the regime can press ahead with its bloody clampdown. This initiative could be a good opportunity for the regime to hold an honest dialogue with the opposition and release prisoners now that it has so little room for stalling and the menace of a civil war in Syria is looming.

This could be the Assad regime's chance to review its practices and policies and formulate new policies that respond to the people's democratic aspirations.

Two Tunisian figures strike a rare balance

A year since the first trigger of the Arab Spring was pulled in Tunisia, a new president has been democratically elected in the North African nation, and a new foreign minister was appointed - two figures that strike a delicate balance between modernism and conservatism, according to Mansour Al Jamri, editor of the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat.

Tunisia's new president, Moncef Marzouki, is a well-known human rights activist who has long been persecuted under the overthrown regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

He says there are three levels to the West: "the West of political agendas", which is ugly, imperialistic and untrustworthy; "the West of values and technology", which Arabs ought to learn from; and "the West of civil societies", which is a partner and a friend

Mr Marzouki's presidency in a coalition that includes the moderate Islamists of Ennahda party, which won the country's national assembly elections in October, "offers us a missing model in which modernists and Islamists work together", the editor said.

The new foreign minister, Rafik Abdel Salam, is a well-known activist within Ennahda, and his views show his openness.

"Nobody can claim monopoly over Islam just as much as nobody is entitled to be the sole representative of modernism," Mr Abdel Salam said in an interview.

Much is expected of two politicians with their nuanced views.

A crucial GCC Summit amid regional unrest

The Gulf Cooperation Council summit that began in Riyadh on Monday comes at the end of the year in the wake of a tsunami of major events in the Arab region and in the world. Therefore, there is no exaggeration is saying that it is a decisive summit in the Gulf states' national history, commented Rajeh el Khouri, a columnist with the Lebanese daily Annahar.

During the recent developments across the Arab World, the GCC proved to be a coherent regional organisation with an efficient role to play. But Saudi Arabia, the nucleus of the Gulf body, is keen on giving the GCC a more powerful framework that not only protects the interests of its member states, but also acts as a sentinel for security and stability in the entire region.

During their last meeting, the Council's defence ministers called for the expansion of the Peninsula Shield in light of the present challenges and the Iranian interferences in various parts of the Gulf. It is a most necessary expansion in light of this past year's unexpected tremors and especially in Iraq.

"It is a Gulf summit over a changing world. They [the Gulf states] have certainly learned the lessons that would guarantee their success where the Arab League has fallen through," the writer concluded.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk