x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Syria's ambitious economic peace

In an opinion article for the Qatari daily Al Watan, Bassam al Dhaw praised the Syrian president Bashar al Assad.

In an opinion article for the Qatari daily Al Watan, Bassam al Dhaw praised the Syrian president Bashar al Assad for his proposal to link the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Arabian Gulf, and Caspian Sea through a series of trade routes and conclude new trade agreements between the countries that border these bodies of water. "The Syrian president's vision encompasses more than politics. He is seeking to broaden his country's relations by boosting economic ties and trade relations with neighbouring states, namely Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan."

His vision cannot be implemented overnight. "But if his proposal is realised, then the Eastern Mediterranean would be connected with Central Asia. Trade routes will flourish, bringing about an unprecedented political and cultural interaction among the region's population. This will promote economic development, which will lead to a sustainable peace based on mutual interests." The writer predicted that, in the future, the ideas put forth by Mr Assad would become a necessity for all Arab countries and not only for Syria. "Arabs lack the vision needed to defend their interests and benefit from their strategic location, hence this proposal should be worth consideration."

Salah al Qalab outlined the general aspects of the new US peace plan in a comment piece for the Kuwaiti daily Al Jarida. The scheme, explained the writer, would feature four main points: establishing a Palestinian state, full Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian Territories occupied in the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem, holding talks regarding the future of the remaining six per cent of land surrounding the Old City as well as the rights of return of refugees born before the establishment of Israel in 1948.

According to the writer, these are the only possible outcomes of the peace plan as the Americans have continuously spoken on these issues. "Arabs needs to be realistic and only expect what is on offer right now from Americans. They should likewise forget the dream that US will liberate Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." It is high time for Palestinians to overcome their differences and positively engage in the peace process; otherwise, the Palestinian cause would enter into a "black phase". The writer also called on Arabs to join with the Americans to achieve peace.

Reading into the statements of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein before the FBI, Tariq Alhomayed, the editor-in-chief of the London-based daily Al Sharq al Awsat, described him as a "paper tiger" who had done harm to himself, his countrymen and to the whole region. Saddam was a paper tiger because he overestimated the military capacity of Iraq as a way to deter his then-enemy Iran. "In response, the Iranians engaged in a mad arms race and they devoted all their efforts to toppling the Iraqi regime. The Iranians had gone so far as to co-operate with the Americans to depose Saddam. The latter succeeded in identifying the enemy, but failed to recognise the friend.

"Today's Iraq is about to commit the same mistake, but in a different way. It throws itself into the arms of Iranians as if it were keeping the friend close and the enemy closer." Unfortunately, Iraqi officials decision to befriend the Iranians only gives them opportunities for more involvement in Iraq's internal affair. So in order to protect Iraq from foreign threats, different political actors need to unify their position so that the country can reintegrate itself into the Arab world and regain its position as an active and independent international player.

Commenting on mounting fear regarding the Haj season and the spread of swine flu, Dr Shamlan Youssef al Issa wrote in the UAE newspaper Al Ittihad that many fatwas have emerged, banning travel to infected countries. Meanwhile the World Health Organisation has only advised that elderly, pregnant, sick people and children postpone Haj and Umra by a year to avoid contracting the disease. Amid this fear coupled with a delay in enacting a unified strategy to counter swine flu in the GCC, the number of Umra pilgrims has dropped significantly.

"What is most important for us, whether in the GCC countries or in other Arab and Islamic countries, is to leave the decision on how to combat the disease and counter its spread to medical experts in the ministries of health and in other international health organisations. As for banning travel, this should be decided by doctors, not by clerics. This matter requires an informed opinion, not the muddled issuance of contradicting fatwas in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"We hope that GCC ministers will make a sound decision during their next meeting in Riyadh to address the pandemic." * Digest compiled by Mostapha el Mouloudi melmouloudi@thenational.ae