x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Testing time before Sudan's elections

The picture is getting darker with days to go, as quarrels over the timing and potential tampering with the elections have not yet abated.

As Sudan's first elections in 24 years are only three days away, analysts are still divided over whether the outcome will be beneficial or detrimental to the country's political and territorial unity. In an opinion article for the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat, Othman Merghini said the "picture is getting darker" as quarrels over the timing and potential tampering with the elections have not yet abated.

"The problem with these elections is that they are a political manoeuvre by all parties involved. The government seeks 'electoral legitimacy' to be able to face the next phase after ruling for 21 years by virtue of military authority." Likewise, the opposition is eyeing the opportunity to take down the regime by coalescing with the southerners to win some four million votes, enough to prevent the ruling National Congress party from winning the first round.

For his part, Hassan Abu Taleb, a columnist with the Emirati newspaper Akhbar al Arab, sees that the forthcoming elections honour the peace agreement signed in 2005 between Sudan's People Liberation Movement, representing the South, and the central government in Khartoum. The ruling party and all other political factions that have confirmed their participation in the elections are, all in all, taking "a laudable stance". Indeed, the time is ripe for nationwide political participation in Sudan.

Opinions have always varied in the Arab world over visits by athletes, clerics and artists to the Palestinian Occupied Territories, said the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi in its editorial. Some observers see each of these visits as steps towards "cultural and athletic normalisation" with Israel, while others view them as a form of support for the Palestinian Authority and a cheer for the Palestinian people's determination to establish an independent state.

The fuss intensified in the past few days when the president of the Bahraini football federation announced that the Bahraini team would accept an invitation by its Palestinian counterpart to play a friendly match in Jerusalem on May 28. Then, a Saudi preacher, Mohammed al Arifi, triggered a political and religious debate by saying that he intends to visit occupied Jerusalem next week. "It must be understood that all the areas under Israeli occupation require an entry permit from the Israeli authorities. In other words, anyone who enters the Occupied Territories will have to pass through Israeli checkpoints where passports are checked, because the Palestinian Authority doesn't have the power to issue visit visas independently." Such an interaction between Arab figures and Israeli authorities may be used with ill intent by Israel as proof that it is recognised by otherwise rejectionist Arabs.

The US treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, arrived in India on Tuesday to launch, together with the Indian finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, a new "US-Indian financial and economic partnership" intended to bolster investment and economic stability and create solid dialogue channels between the two countries, wrote Abeedli al Abeedli, a columnist with the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat.

Though the volume of trade between the two countries is still less significant than that between the US and China, it did reach around $40 billion in 2008. This figure is rather considerable when seen in the light of China's trade deficit in its exchange with India, totalling more than $1.7 billion in 2004. "That's precisely what prompted more US interest in the Indian market," the writer noted, keeping in mind that the US is considered to be the largest market for Indian services, especially in telecommunications and information technology. Some US officials emphasise the China factor in Mr Geithner's visit to India. Citing a book by Maharajakrishna Rasgotra, titled The New Asian Power Dynamic, the Saudi newspaper Al Jazira reported:"US corporations are seriously studying the option of turning India into an alternative industrial platform capable of creating a qualitative balance with China."

As Turkey's radio and television corporation TRT launched its first Arabic-language satellite channel last week, Arabs have every reason to believe that Turkey is seriously opening up to them, wrote Zouhair Majid in the Omani newspaper Al Watan.

Some commentators said the keynote of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish premier, during the launch ceremony sounded like it was coming from someone "who loves the Arabs more than the Arabs love themselves". Mr Erdogan's speech, which mentioned the Palestinian cause and focused on the plight of Gazans, "was like a eulogy for Arabs and their culture". More Turks are certainly rediscovering their Arab neighbourhood just as much as a growing number of Arabs are rethinking their historical relations with the Turks, who ruled one of the greatest Islamic empires of modern times.

The Arabs in the east lived for four centuries under the Ottoman Empire. Now Mr Erdogan, who used some words in Arabic in his keynote speech, cited the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum as the voice of the Arabs and Turks alike. Ankara's efforts towards cultivating strong, brotherly ties with its Arab neighbourhood must, indeed, be responded to favourably. * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi