x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

When Egyptians walk the Tunisian way

A digest of commentaries from the Arab press.

"Which country will be next?" asked the pan-Arab daily Al Quds al Arabi in its editorial. That is the hottest question being asked over and over again across the Arab world since the Tunisian uprising brought down a 23-year-old iron-fisted regime earlier this month.

The speculation was that Egypt, Jordan and Yemen topped the candidate list because they showed the same symptoms of deteriorated living conditions and a drastic lack of reforms.

"The raucous demonstrations that erupted in 15 towns across Egypt on Tuesday, counting tens of thousands of people, mostly youngsters, may well mark the beginning of an intifada."

The Tunisian inspiration is unmistakable. The demonstrators chanted such slogans as "Hey Mubarak! Hey Mubarak! The plane is waiting for you!" or "Hey Zine el Abidine, guess who's next!"

The Egyptian people feel that the political regime in place looks down upon them, and this feeling of humiliation was reflected in the massive boycott of the past parliamentary elections in which the ruling National Democratic Party won by a landslide.

"The absence of political reforms, the security forces' persistent repression of the people and the widening gap between rich and poor are all factors that make an explosion of the situation in Egypt more ominous than in any other Arab country."


Has Mahmoud Abbas betrayed the cause?

"Before getting into the details, the answer to the question above is: no," wrote Tariq al Homayed, the editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper Asharq al Awsat. "For it seems that some are trying these days to persuade the Palestinians and the Arabs, based on a deluge of documents, that Mahmoud Abbas and his mates have sold out the Palestinian cause."

Referring to the hundreds of documents leaked by Al Jazeera news network on Sunday, the editor said: "Most of what is now known as the Palestine Papers is not new, especially not for the Arabs. Many Arab officials indeed affirm that they knew about that content, arguing that it simply involves negotiation details, not agreements. When negotiators go to talks - any negotiators and any talks, that is - they riff off a whole bunch of ideas, consistent and contradictory, and sometimes they act like the helicopter's rotor blades when you don't know whether they are spinning to the right or to the left. In the end, the most important part is the final signature."

Also, the timing of these leaked papers is strange. If these documents were to come out as Palestinian negotiators are sitting at the table with the Israelis, perhaps the Arabs' irritated reaction would be justified. "But, coming at a time when the Palestinian president refuses to negotiate with Israel - these documents end up being quite confusing."


Iraq is moving towards religious despotism

The smoke has cleared in Iraq, and what you see now is a country moving down the road of Islamisation, wrote Rashid al Khayoun, an Iraqi scholar, in the comment pages of the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

The fact is that the exponents of political Islam are unable to tell the difference between state departments and mosques, to the point where hallways in ministries turn into funeral ceremonies on some religious occasions. And if officials object, trying to remind others of the primary function of the building, they will be labelled as a "rogue" or a "Baathist tail".

"In that same name of religion, these new princes of 'the Islamic State of Iraq' perpetrate carnage, and the higher the death toll, the greater the suicide bomber's divine reward. The same goes for the militias; they raise the pictures of Imam Ali and his sons as their characteristic flags. And if you take a close look at the banners held by the proponents of political Islam - be they in power or on the side of the resistance - it will dawn on you that they're all in it for power not faith; they're in it to tyrannise people in the name of religion."

The writer believes that Iraq must not miss the great opportunity it now has to turn the page of its painful past.

"Islamising society is synonymous with despotism."


Lebanese politics are still democratic

Lebanon is known as the "Switzerland of the East", not just for its beauty but also for its political system which, by some western standards and compared to other parts of the Arab world, is viewed as democratic. "But what kind of democracy are we talking about in Lebanon?" asked Amjad Arar, a columnist with the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

Sure, the country enjoys substantial freedom of expression that beats even western democracies. "But freedoms are one thing and democracy is another."

"Democracy and political sectarianism are two parallel lines that will never meet. Talk about consensual democracy? Well, such a thing cannot be. And if there is such a thing that requires that appellation, it must consist of a mere truce that gives the sects and their parties the chance to breathe before another round of fighting."

Indeed, with the rifts that we are witnessing in Beirut these days, this question of democracy in Lebanon regains centre stage. How on Earth is democracy supposed to proceed when attitudes like "either me or sedition" are still taken by some leaders in the political scene?

If democracy tolerates someone who wants to remain a lifelong leader, then those who accept that democracy must walk in shame.


* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi