x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Talks suggestion was a long-shot attempt to get peace

The Syrian opposition leader who proposed talks with the regime wants peace for his people, an Arabic editor writes. Other comment topics today: Iran's hypocrisy and a formula for Yemen's future.

Sheikh Moaz Al Khatib's proposal for dialogue was rooted in concern for his suffering people

On Wednesday, Syria's opposition leader Moaz Al Khatib announced his willingness to negotiate with the Assad regime to put an end to the civil war.

Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al Arabi, described the move as a political bomb of the heaviest weight.

Sheikh Al Khatib, who was chosen as head of the Syrian National Coalition last year, listed two preconditions for the talks: the release of 160,000 prisoners detained in the regime's jails and the extension or renewal of passports of Syrians living abroad for a minimum of two years.

His proposal was rejected by the Syrian opposition groups that insist on Mr Al Assad's stepping down as a preamble to any dialogue with the regime. Members of the opposition coalition said Mr Al Khatib's statements reflected his personal opinions and are in contrast with the provisions of the Doha agreement. Other opposition factions went as far as accusing him of treason.

"Accusations of treason are nothing new to the opposition's vernacular. In fact, they are an integral part of it," the writer said. "Opposition figures use them against anyone who disagrees with them. Thus, Sheikh Al Khatib, yesterdays hero elected unanimously to lead the opposition coalition, is now viewed as the murderous regime's partner in crime."

However, Mr Al Khatib's proposal wasn't arbitrary. He based it on data and facts made available to him in the past two weeks during his participation with international powers in London and Paris, where his hopes for increased military support for the opposition were shut down.

The West, mainly the US, gave up on the idea of arming the rebel fighters. President Barack Obama emphasised it in his inauguration speech as he confirmed his inclination towards peaceful dialogue. It was a clear message to the Syrian opposition that the US would not interfere militarily in the Syrian crisis.

But what may have encouraged Mr Al Khatib the most to acquiesce to dialogue is the apparent stalemate in the confrontation.

Despite heavy combat and all the destruction, neither side in the conflict has been able to overcome the other. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the chaos, extreme Islamist groups have been taking hold and gaining strength in various parts of the country. They managed to recruit hundreds if not thousands of young Syrians by offering social services in the freed areas.

Sheikh Moaz Al Khatib realised all of these truths. He is aware that the international community views the Syrian crisis as a refugee issue rather than a movement by a people seeking reform and democracy.

More importantly, it has become clear to him that his people have been left to deal with their suffering alone. Hence, he suggested dialogue to prevent more bloodshed, opined the writer.

Arms won't win against Al Qaeda in Yemen

For the first time, Yemen will face the threat of Al Qaeda with a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism, wrote the Sharjah-based Al Bayan in an editorial on Thursday. "Yemen might be in the process of overcoming its political crisis slowly, but it seems that the threat of terrorism is growing," the paper said.

It is likely that Sanaa will enter a violent and continual war against Al Qaeda. There is no mutual understanding between the two parties that could lead to a peaceful solution.

"Rather, the Yemeni government's reliance on foreign military intervention gives Al Qaeda legitimacy to continue in what it sees as a holy war against an external enemy."

Military approaches are valuable, but dependence on them alone will not be enough to confront this complex and complicated problem, the paper wrote.

"The most important aspect is the environment surrounding these organisations that is helping them to grow, especially with the poor security of the state, the growing popular discontent, the proliferation of weapons, and poverty and unemployment among young people." These factors make it easier for Al Qaeda to win tribal loyalty.

"In summary, the fight between the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda and its allies will continue. But the solution in the long term will be in the capacity of Yemenis to create a democratic state."

Iranian support for the uprisings is a charade

Some Arab intellectuals have been fooled by the artful discourse of Iranian politicians as they pretend to support the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The truth, however, is that Iran does not want revolution in any Arab country, wrote Monzer Eid Al Zamalkani in an article in the London-based paper Asharq Al Awsat.

The world saw how Iranian authorities reacted to popular protests in Tehran after the rigged presidential elections of 2009.

It was a brutal clampdown on peaceful protesters, and it succeeded in crushing the opposition. That offered a model for Syria on how to deal with its uprising, the writer argued.

Iran's support for the Arab revolts was pragmatic. It was not really backing calls for dignity and freedom among Arab people, particularly in neighbouring states. Such demands are contagious and spread like wildfire among peoples, as evidenced by the Arab Spring events.

Any state that persecutes its people, in the name of religion or in the name of the people, cannot genuinely support demands for liberty and dignity from other nations, the writer noted.

When it comes to foreign and regional policy, Iran has always been driven by realpolitik, not justice, and so it will continue backing the Syrian regime until the end.

* Digest compiled by Translation Desk