x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Uncertainty in Egypt

Morsi's military shake-up is seen by some as déjà vu, by others as a tour de force, Arabic language columnists write in today's roundup of regional opinion. Other topics tday: Iran and Syria in Mecca, and Syria's military calculations.

Morsi's military shake-up is seen by some as bad déjà vu, by others as a tour de force

By his bold decision on Sunday to retire top army and intelligence officers, the still-fresh Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, managed to befuddle observers in Egypt, the region and the wider international community, wrote Tariq Al Homayed, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, in a column titled What has just happened in Egypt?

"Some view Mr Morsi's decision as a political coup against the army; others now think that Egypt is completely in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood; and there are those who maintain that Mr Morsi has managed to put an end to military rule in the country," the editor said.

Mr Morsi's decision affected Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the defence minister and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which until the presidential election was the de facto ruler of Egypt. The chief of staff of the armed forces, Sami Anan, was also made to retire.

"There are even the 'gloating' ones," the editor went on, "who want Gen Tantawi and Gen Anan to be prosecuted, just like the unseated president Hosni Mubarak before them."

Yet, not too many observers are pointing to an instance of bad déjà vu unfolding - a president "swallowing one institution after another at a record speed", the editor said. Remember Hosni Mubarak?

Egypt still doesn't have a constitution and its parliament has been dissolved. In the absence of both, this president holds "even more power than the former president, Mr Mubarak, in his heyday", the editor argued.

In reality, only the judiciary has still escaped Mr Morsi's grip, he added. And how long that would last is an open question.

For his part, commentator Mazen Hammad wrote a column titled Morsi's coup in yesterday's edition of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan, arguing that Mr Morsi showed the world "he wasn't the lame-duck president his enemies - and the remnants of the old regime - tried to portray him to be".

By sidelining the strongmen of the army, Mr Morsi "crossed the right T's and dumped the Mubarak era into the skip of history", he added.

In the Middle East, a reliable gauge for the soundness of a political move is the level of Israel's irritation because of it, the columnist said.

"Citing a senior official, Israeli radio said Israel was deeply concerned about Mr Morsi's decision to reshuffle the top ranks of the army."

Tahrir Square in Cairo is an even more reliable measure. "Thousands rallied in Tahrir Square chanting 'The people back the president's decisions', in a clear reference to Mr Morsi's recent move."

Whether Mr Morsi is an "Islamist" or a "Brotherhood guy" is beside the point, the columnist pointed out. "All we care about is that the president of Egypt treat all Egyptians in the same way."

Mecca summit judged unlikely to yield results

Realistically, the extraordinary summit in Mecca, which started yesterday, will not end better than other conferences formerly held in Mecca, argued Abdel Bari Atwan in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

There are two main issues on the agenda for the conference: the escalating 18-month-long Syrian crisis, and the impending Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, the writer noted.

The conference is supposed to succeed, although the UN, and other bodies and meetings, have failed. The good intentions, the holy place and the positive timing are not enough.

"How a solution to the Syrian crisis could be achieved while its most active players are not invited?" he asked. The Syrian government was not invited, neither was the Iraqi government, while the Iranian president attended after a long hesitation.

It is also a paradox not to invite the Syrian opposition which several countries see as an alternative to the regime, he said.

The Iranian issue is as serious as the Syrian crisis, and might turn into a more fierce war amid Israeli plans to attack Iranian nuclear infrastructure. About half the members of the summit, in which Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is taking part, will be sided against his country in the event of a war on Iran.

Frequent conferences in Mecca signal escalating crises in the Islamic world, he concluded.

Unable to free Golan, Bashar kills Syrians

Instead of using his troops to liberate the Golan Heights, Syrian president Bashar Al Assad sent his soldiers to kill his own people, Al Azab Al Tayyib Al Taher wrote in the Qatari newspaper Al Sharq.

Mr Assad has not responded to any Arab or international initiative to end the crisis which he directly sparked with his deadly crackdown on protesters.

"When I saw massive troops deployed across Syrian cities, I wondered why has the Syrian Army not used the firepower we have seen for 18 months against the real enemy who occupies the Golan Heights?"

The force invested in killing the Syrian people is sufficient to free the Golan Heights without any assistance from Arab countries, he said. Assad regime troops are fighting the people with the latest techniques, but cannot show the same courage to liberate the Golan, which has been occupied by Israel for almost 50 years.

But Mr Assad cannot abort the revolution, which erupted to topple a corrupt regime whose barbarity has conclusively manifested itself in systematic killing carried out on a daily basis, he went on.

Mr Assad will continue to kill until he is killed in the manner of Muammar Qaddafi, gets arrested and sentenced to death, or escapes - which is unlikely, since he is surrounded by rebels.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk