x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Tough sell on Syria

Arab states may hope to solicit the help of the Security Council to deal with Syria, but the Russian-Chinese double veto threat will make it difficult, one Arabic language newspaper writes. Other topics in today's roundup: Egypt's emergency law and US power in the Middle East.

As the Syrian crisis drags on, the international community's role will be a tricky balancing act

The Syrian crisis is undeniably headed towards internationalisation, the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in its editorial yesterday.

The Arab League's decision urging President Bashar Al Assad to step down and hand over his powers to his deputy - who would then have to form a national unity government - in fact paves the way for European countries such as France and Britain to seek a Security Council decision for international interference to stop the bloodshed and protect civilians.

Soliciting the help of the Security Council may seem easy, but in truth it isn't. The Russian-Chinese double veto is ready to cripple any such decision, to protect their interests in Syria and Iran on one hand, and to express their dismay about the way they were duped into approving a decision to protect civilians in Libya, that eventually escalated into a full Nato invasion to topple the Qaddafi regime.

"The Syrian authorities harshly dismissed the Arab body's initiative that would require the resignation of the president," said the paper. "But, they failed to notice that this Arab resignation initiative was approved unanimously with only one reservation."

It is expected that in the near future that the US and the Europeans will be intensifying the pressure on Russia to get it to support international action against Syria, especially now that Moscow has urged President Assad to implement reforms or else step down.

The Russian government is renowned for its heightened sense of pragmatism, one that gives national interests priority over principles. Moscow is in no position to clash with Washington for Syria's sake.

"The plan being concocted presently behind closed doors is a blend of the GCC initiative for Yemen and the military interference in Libya," the paper said.

"The foreign role could come in the form of tighter economic siege as a preliminary phase before military action."

But in the meantime, what advocates and critics of the internationalisation of the Syrian crisis alike don't realise is that Syria is quickly slipping into a state of bloody chaos. The initially peaceful uprising is taking a military shape, and civil war is looming in the horizon.

Some may argue that the regime is responsible for these operations that support its theories about terrorist powers targeting the peace and stability of Syria.

"It isn't that the regime, which has so far killed 6,000 Syrian citizens, would hesitate to do so, but we believe that security at this point is its last chance to maintain a semblance of power and it is unlikely that it would jeopardise it."

Eleven months into the Syrian uprising, how much longer will it take for the Arab initiative to persuade President Assad to step down?

Egypt's emergency law fine print remains

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled Egypt since the departure of Hosni Mubarak almost a year ago, announced a partial lifting of the emergency law that governed the country for more than 30 years, providing cover for all sorts of government abuses.

Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the SCAF chairman, made the announcement this week in a bid to pre-empt protests marking the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on Wednesday, columnist Mazen Hammad noted in yesterday's edition of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

Yet Tantawi exempted "rabble rousers" intending to "topple the state" from the lifting of the emergency law, which allows security forces to detain suspects for an indefinite period of time. This simply reminds us of Hosni Mubarak's rule, the writer said. Mr Mubarak used to argue that the emergency law applies only to "terrorists and drug dealers."

Retaining the right to name exceptions gives the SCAF all the power it needs to push the loose boundaries of the emergency law, making its lifting incomplete, the columnist said. The invalidation of the emergency law was one of the key demands of protesters throughout the revolution - and to this day.

That is why Marshall Tantawi's message did not have the intended calming effect. Protesters will be angry at a law that threatens anyone the army deems guilty.

US now a dispensable power in Middle East

According to US President Barack Obama, the only great power that shaped the global order in the post-Soviet Union collapse era now has the rank of "sole, indispensable power". It is indeed the sole power that cannot be neglected or brushed aside, but the power that has fled the Middle East, suggested columnist Satea Noureddine in the Lebanese daily Assafir.

The America that Mr Obama spoke of in his State of the Union speech brings to mind images of the old Germany: the state that expanded into an empire and came close to ruling the world backs down under the pressure of the human and economic costs of its expansionist plans.

The US president declared that America has decided to become a power in the Pacific that would be able to contain the immense Chinese development. He confirmed that the withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East is definite.

"But the US will not leave behind a nuclear power state in Iran, although it prefers a political solution for this situation. Also, America will make sure that the Israel it leaves behind is militarily superior to all of its Arab neighbours. Israel will not be required to grant the Palestinian people some of their national rights or to engage in peace negotiations with them," said the writer.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem