MIDEAST MIRROR 03.07.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1- Egypt’s dark tunnel
2-Signs of a Saudi shift on Syria
3-Erdogan’s dangerous game
4-A win for Tehran
5-Anarchy and confusion in the PA
1- Egypt’s dark tunnel
The nature and scale of the attacks, from the assassination of officials to major terrorist operations in Sinai, suggest that there are forces and groups allied to the armed Egyptian opposition that wish to topple the current regime. These groups believe they can overthrow Sissi's state by creating the greatest degree of chaos, and that such unrest will drive the people onto the streets to demand change. Such things may happen in other states. But there are old institutions in Egypt, the most prominent of which is the army. And no other force can control the street, nor take hold of Sinai or any part of it. Moreover, there are no separatist forces in Egypt, or local or sectarian forces, as in the cases of Iraq, Syria, and Sudan--'Abderrahman ar-Rashed in Saudi Asharq al-Awsat
Today, when Egypt is on the threshold of a dangerous path in which no voice will be louder than that of violence, the current military regime cannot shirk its responsibility for dragging the country into a dark tunnel. For this regime lacks any legitimacy and the only tool it has in its hand is that of force. Any institution that cancels the verdict of the ballot box by force and allows itself to respond to its opponents with death and life sentences has no right to complain if this were to produce general chaos and terrorism. It is true that terrorism is a condemnable, nihilistic, and dead-end road that opens up no horizons. But the party that places its foot on this road first would have brought that curse down on itself--Bashir al-Bakr on pan-Arab www.alaraby.co.uk
There is a general sense in Egypt that there are forces behind the terrorist groups that are waging attacks on public officials and the army, claims a veteran Saudi commentator. These forces are using Libya as the gateway through which weapons are being smuggled into the country. Egypt is rapidly sliding towards the situation that Algeria found itself in the 1990s when the military staged a coup against an Islamist movement that had legitimately won free and open elections, warns a Syrian commentator on a Qatari-owned online daily. In Egypt's case, the army will be responsible if the country descends further into violence and terrorism.
RUINED CELEBRATIONS: "The terrorists ruined the celebrations of 'Abdelfattah' as-Sissi's first anniversary of coming to power; the Egyptian media was busy covering the assassination of the public prosecutor and the subsequent bombings in Sinai, instead," writes 'Abderrahman ar-Rashed in Friday's Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
The question after this series of bloody events is this: Were these events just a passing storm or is this the start of a major war?
From our knowledge of Egyptian civil society, violence never wins. As for the state, it will not be blamed if it wages a large-scale war against the armed opposition and other oppositions linked to it. For voices are rising demanding that the death sentences [passed against Muslim Brotherhood leaders] should be implemented.
Despite the violence we have witnessed over the past period – the fifty years from the era of 'Abdel Nasser till today-- the armed groups have never won, regardless of successive governments and the different identities of the various opposition groups. It is certain that the 'salafi jihadi' groups and the armed Brotherhood branches will fail as well. But no one seems to learn from the lessons of the near past and, sadly, much blood will be spilt across Egypt in the struggle for power.
The nature and scale of the attacks, from the assassination of officials to major terrorist operations in Sinai, suggest that there are forces and groups allied to the armed Egyptian opposition that wish to topple the current regime. These groups believe they can overthrow Sissi's state by creating the greatest degree of chaos, and that such unrest will drive the people onto the streets to demand change.
Such things may happen in other states. But there are old institutions in Egypt, the most prominent of which is the army. And no other force can control the street, nor take hold of Sinai or any part of it. Moreover, there are no separatist forces in Egypt, or local or sectarian forces, as in the cases of Iraq, Syria, and Sudan.
Throughout its history, Egypt has remained a single state on both banks of the Nile, administered from the center, Cairo. The unity of its social fabric and the steadfastness of its military establishment will undo any wager on change in Egypt. The only thing that can be achieved is to provoke the state, inflict pain on ordinary citizens, and damage people's livelihood, the economy, and investment in general.
The Egyptian government will not surprise us if it were to take stricter measures against the opposition because there is a feeling that what is happening is no mere terrorist action by mentally unbalanced groups, but that certain forces are setting them in motion and that their project is to topple the Egyptian regime and take over power.
We do not know if such charges are mere delusion or based on fact. But the general sense is that this is a battle for survival, and the Egyptian state will not refrain from pursuing the extremists beyond its borders. And beyond these borders there is a regional situation that is on fire that threatens to set all states alight.
"For Libya is the broad gateway through which the extremists are infiltrating and weapons are being brought in to Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria," concludes Rashed.
CLEAR SIGNAL: "The latest developments that began with the terrorist attack that killed Egyptian public prosecutor Hisham Barakat, send a clear signal that the general situation in the country is threatening to slide towards what is much more dangerous than what we have been witnessing in Cairo and Sinai so far," writes Bashir al-Bakr on the Qatari-owned pan-Arab www.alaraby.co.uk.
The car bomb that targeted Barakat was planted in a well-guarded security zone. The victim was no ordinary person, but one of the regime’s main figures who had stirred much anger against him because of his role in consolidating President Sissi’s July 2013 military coup. It was Barakat who set in motion the judicial machine that legitimized the massacre [of Muslim Brotherhood supporters] in Rabi'a Square, and the subsequent arbitrary arrests, and the harsh and shameful sentences passed against leading political figures – death and life sentences based on flimsy charges – foremost among them, elected president Mohammad Mursi.
From the very first day of his election, Sissi borrowed the model used by the Algerian army in 1992 when it cancelled the legislative elections that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had won, and imprisoned its leaders amidst French and international support. The result was that a gate was opened that no one had taken into consideration before; that of violence that developed into a civil war that lasted some ten years and in which around one-quarter-million Algerians died, not to mention the psychological and economic consequences that are still plain for all to see.
FIS leaders at the time did not urge the movement's public and supporters to resort to violence. Instead, young leaders emerged and took up weapons, dragging broad sectors of the public behind them. These included certain sectors that had historically suffered from one-party rule, marginalization and exclusion, as well as other circles that had lost any hope of peaceful change and found an effective solution in the resort to force. But the result was that everyone lost, Algeria before all, which squandered its chance for a pluralistic democratic experiment based on the peaceful transfer of power via the ballot box.
Today, 23 years after the bitter Algerian precedent, its lessons remain plain to see, especially if coupled with the popular revolutions that have broken out in a number of Arab countries demanding an end to the corrupt and repressive regimes ruling them. Among these revolutions, whose winds blew from Tunisia in late 2010, the Egyptian January 25th [2011 anti-Mursi] Revolution continues to occupy a special place in people's political consciousness because it paved its own special path that led to the election of a new parliament and a new president [Mursi].
That, in turn, spread the hope in the Arab world that Egypt could act as a lever to transform the Arab situation, and act as a supporter of the revolutions in Tunisia, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. But the military's winds pushed Egypt in a different direction. The military staged a counter-revolution without learning from the developments in Syria that had plunged into a civil war because of Bashar al-Assad's regime's insistence on confronting the people's dreams of freedom and dignity with bullets.
Today, when Egypt is on the threshold of a dangerous path in which no voice will be louder than that of violence, the current military regime cannot shirk its responsibility for dragging the country into a dark tunnel. For this regime lacks any legitimacy and the only tool it has in its hand is that of force. Any institution that cancels the verdict of the ballot box by force and allows itself to respond to its opponents with death and life sentences has no right to complain if this were to produce general chaos and terrorism.
It is true that terrorism is a condemnable, nihilistic, and dead-end road that opens up no horizons. But the party that places its foot on this road first would have brought that curse down on itself.
"This is why Egypt today needs those who will raise the voice of reason high and push this bitter cup away from its lips – before the temple is brought down on everyone's head," concludes Bakr.
2-Signs of a Saudi shift on Syria
Riyadh may be coming around to Egypt’s view that the priority should go to confronting ISIS rather than overthrowing the Syrian regime, says today’s pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
There are growing signs that Saudi Arabia is drawing closer to Egypt’s view that the main threat in the region today comes from ISIS, and that other issues such as the Syrian crisis should be set aside for the moment, argues the editorial on a pan-Arab online daily. The most recent such sign was the exceptionally strongly worded telegram of condolences sent by the Saudi monarch to the Egyptian president after this week’s ISIS attacks in Sinai.
EXPRESSION OF SOLIDARITY: "Saudi King Salman bin 'Abdulaziz has stressed that his country stands at Egypt’s side in its confrontation with anything that targets its security and stability," writes Friday's editorial on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
This expression of solidarity was in a long 'condolences' message sent to Egyptian President 'Abdelfattah Sissi in response to the attacks by ISIS’s ‘Sinai Province’ on six Egyptian army checkpoints on Wednesday in which 70 people were killed, including 16 officers and troops, according to official statements.
This message, which can be described as ‘warm and sympathetic’ comes at a time when Saudi/Egyptian relations have cooled after the change in Riyadh’s attitude towards Egypt resulting from the Saudi leadership's noticeable rapprochement with the Muslim Brotherhood and its decision to join the Turkish/Qatari axis. That axis has no love for Egypt and is strongly opposed to its ferocious war against the Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, and it is working to topple the regime in Cairo on the grounds that it is 'illegitimate.'
There have been successive signs indicating that the Saudi leadership has begun to reconsider its policies towards the Syrian file. It is drawing closer to Egypt’s view of giving priority to the fight against ISIS after the latter has targeted the Saudi domestic front by bombing Shiite mosques in al-Qatif and ad-Dammam, and in Kuwait as well.
Reports suggest that this change in the Saudi position was manifest during Saudi Deputy Crown-Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Moscow two weeks ago, during which he signed contracts for building nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia and concluded deals for advanced Russian weapons to the tune of 12-billion dollars. Some reports spoke of a Russian/Saudi meeting of minds over the Syrian file, as well as other files having to do with oil and armament, with Saudi Arabia backing down – if only temporarily – from the goal of toppling the Damascus regime.
It is true that the Saudi authorities did not officially welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to form a four-way alliance between Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and Syria with the object of combating ISIS. But it was also notable that Riyadh’s reaction to this proposal did not amount to a decisive rejection. It left the door slightly open, contrary to the Syrian position as expressed by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allem who visited Moscow to discuss this proposal. Mu'allem expressed his astonishment at the prospect of his country joining an alliance with states that have been trying hard to destroy Syria and are backing the 'terrorism' that is targeting it – as he put it. He described the emergence of such a four-way alliance as a 'miracle' given the blood feuds between Syria and each of the other three states.
But ISIS’s 'expansion' and its escalating attacks in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Yemen, and most recently Sinai could lead – and may already have done so in fact– to a convergence of views between many of the region's governments for fear of this violent terrorist phenomenon and its threat. Egypt and Saudi Arabia head the list of these governments.
Unfortunately, there is likely to be an intensified exchange of messages of 'condolences' in the coming month if the bloody acts of terrorism and bombings were to continue, such as the attacks on mosques, checkpoints, and other military targets, as is happening now in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
Mending Egyptian/Saudi relations, whose first signs we could detect from Saudi Foreign Minister Khalid al-Jubeir’s visit to Cairo a month ago, and from the Saudi monarch's message to the Egyptian president that departed from their traditional 'courtesy' character, has been prompted by the common denominator shared by the two countries, based on the fear and concern at the growing ISIS threat and at its future impact on their security.
"And they have much to be concerned about," concludes the daily.
3-Erdogan’s dangerous game
The Turkish president’s frustrated ambitions risk stirring a hornet’s nest along the borders with Syria, says Mohammad Noureddin in today’s Emirates’ al-Khaleej
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is playing a dangerous game by threatening to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria, maintains a Lebanese commentator on Turkish affairs. Part of his aim may be to prevent the Kurds from taking full control of Syria's borders with Turkey, while another part has to do with his hopes of reversing the results of the recent parliamentary elections that cost his AKP (Justice and Development Party) its exclusive hold on power.
THE MAIN TOPIC OF DICUSSION: "Turkish intervention in Syria has been the main topic of discussion for days now in Turkey," writes Mohammad Noureddin in Friday's UAE daily al-Khaleej.
There are those who trace the sudden emergence of Turkey's efforts to intervene in Syria back to mid-May . At the time, there was no reason to implement this step. But Turkish Chief of General Staff General Necdet Ozal refused this intervention and used the pretext of his own health and entering hospital to ask for a postponement of discussion of the matter for at least two weeks.
Then came the June 7th parliamentary elections and the resulting defeat for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which failed to maintain its exclusive hold over power, and has been forced to search for a coalition government that has yet to be born.
During this period, there were military developments in northern Syria after the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) succeeded in capturing the town of Tal Abyad and liberating it from ISIS. The battle of Tal Abyad was a qualitative achievement in the Kurds' favor. At this point, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised his voice high warning that the town’s fall into Kurdish hands constitutes a threat to Turkey.
According to Erdogan, this threat stems from the fact that the fall of Tal Abyad has created a geographic link between the Kurds' two cantons in al-Jazeera and 'Ain al-Arab (Kobani). This means that the entire area extending from the Iraqi borders to 'Ain al-Arab, and across from the Kurdish borders, is now in the hands of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which supports Abdullah Ocalan’s Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). This border area stretches for around 500 kms, that is to say, more than half the length of Syria's borders with Turkey.
Here, Erdogan declared that he would not permit the establishment of Kurdish border strip to the south of the Turkish borders. Turkish fears stem from the prospect that the Kurds could later – even if years from now – succeed in taking control of the 90 kms that separate 'Ain al-Arab from a Kurdish 'Afrin canton to the West. If that happened, the Kurdish areas would be geographically contiguous and all of Turkey's southern borders would be in the hands of the Kurds. The result would be that Turkey would be totally severed from its Arab space, especially if the Kurds were to subsequently succeed in reaching the Mediterranean.
There are many sensational scenarios that defy imagination. But the situation in Syria over the past two years has also turned into something that defies the imagination and any such predictions.
The din of war rose and Erdogan beat the war drums. The country tensed up with talk of serious Turkish preparations to enter northern Syria in the area between Jarablus and 'Afrin, so as to establish a buffer zone under the Turkish army's control in order to prevent the Kurdish areas from linking up to each other.
This is the first aim of all of this hubbub and racket. The irony is that, amidst all this commotion, PM Ahmet Davutoglu has been either absent or has remained in the shadows. At any rate, Erdogan seemed to be the final arbiter and decision-maker, and not Davutoglu.
The other aim behind whipping-up this tension, stems from the fact that Turkey wants to prevent ISIS from taking control of the border areas that are held by the armed [Syrian opposition] groups that are backed directly by Turkey such like Jayshul Fateh and the Nusra Front. That would sever Turkey's direct supply lines to these groups, and thereby weaken them.
As for the third aim, Erdogan is playing a domestic game after losing his dreams of establishing a presidential regime –failed in fact to ensure that he would continue to have the only say in Turkey's foreign and domestic policies given Davutoglu's willingness to remain in Erdogan's shadow, even though the executive powers and the first word should go to the prime minister.
Erdogan's plan is to enter Syria and have the Turkish army directly establish a buffer zone on the ground there, or establish such a zone indirectly via the army’s firepower and warplanes from behind the borders, or by any other means. Erdogan would thereby regain the prestige he has lost, that he can then employ (after obstructing the formation of a new government) in early parliamentary elections in the belief that they would be in the AKP's favor. He would thereby compensate for at least part of the defeat he suffered by ensuring that the AKP would re-establish its exclusive hold on power, even if with a majority of one. This would then allow Erdogan to continue to monopolize the government and the state's decision by virtue of his monopoly over the AKP's decision.
These are the many aspirations of a man who has become a lame duck. But heading to war in Syria is not just a game or picnic that will end according to his plans. Even if we do not mention Russia and Iran, it is enough to note that Washington opposes these plans and realizes the depth of the predicament that Erdogan may face if he refuses to confront the facts and insists on pursuing a risky Syrian adventure.
"And if we were to count the hornets that would emerge from the nest, we cannot but feel pity for Turkey, both domestically and along its borders, due to the futile adventures in the last quarter-hour of extra time before Erdogan's hands are shackled by a new coalition government," concludes Noureddin.
4-A win for Tehran
Regardless of the final outcome of the nuclear negotiations, Tehran has already achieved its major goals without having to alter its regional behavior, says Hisham Milhem in Lebanese an-Nahar
Regardless of the final result of the '5 + 1’ nuclear negotiations with Iran, Tehran has already succeeded in its main objective of securing international recognition of its right to have a nuclear program and rejoining the 'international community,' maintains a commentator in a Lebanese daily. And it has done so without having to change its negative role in a number of regional files.
PUBLIC ESCALATION: "Negotiations between Iran and the '5 + 1' have entered their final round after being extended till July 7th," writes Hisham Milhem in the Lebanese daily an-Nahar.
This has occurred amidst the escalation in Washington and Tehran's public positions and against the background of signs that the two sides have invested too much effort, time, and political prestige to retreat at this late juncture – especially, since the domestic price of failure would be very high for both sides, regardless of which one of them may be responsible for the talks’ failure.
President Obama's administration claims that the negotiations' collapse would drive Iran into moving closer to developing nuclear weapons. But many observers doubt this because that would drive the Arab states and Turkey to enter a nuclear arms race with Tehran. They also believe that Iran's negative influence in the region poses the more important threat to the U.S.'s interests and that of its friends in the region. And this assessment is consistent with that of the Iranian threat by some Gulf Cooperation Council member states.
The Iranians claim that the U.S. wants the agreement more than they do, and the Americans claim that Iran yearns for an agreement because of the pressures of the sanctions. But the fact is that both sides want an agreement they can sell domestically.
Iran’s main aim is to lift as many as possible of the sanctions imposed by Washington and the UN, and regain between 100 and 150-billion dollars of its frozen monies. The fact is that it returned to the negotiations because the harsh sanctions cut its currency's value and its oil exports by half, which, in addition to its investment in the Syrian war to shore up the Assad regime, have left it with no other choice. Freeing Iran from the sanctions will help bolster its economy. At the same time, it will help finance its regional policies that are opposed to Washington's policies and those of its Arab allies and Israel.
For the U.S., the agreement will permit Obama – who has had no tangible achievement in the Middle East during his two terms in office – to tell his critics that he achieved his main regional goal by opening up to Iran and freezing its nuclear program for ten or fifteen years without the use of military force.
From the perspective of history, it is possible to say that regardless of the negotiations’ results, Iran has achieved its ambition to build a nuclear infrastructure with its human assets, secured the great powers’ acknowledgment of its right to enrich uranium (albeit at low levels) and has effectively rejoined the 'international community' by way of negotiations.
"From the start of the negotiations, Iran has succeeded in separating the nuclear file from the other urgent files, most importantly its negative role in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and Yemen. And this negative role will not be affected by the outcome of the talks," concludes Milhem.
5-Anarchy and confusion in the PA
The PA has been appointing and dismissing leaders seemingly arbitrarily and with no institutional oversight, notes Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in Jordanian al-Ghad
The dismissal of PLO Executive Committee secretary Yasser 'Abed-Rabbo reflects a pattern of appointments and dismissals in Palestinian institutions that lack any clear basis, argues a Palestinian commentator. This is largely the result of failure to revive the PLO and hold Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections.
MANY QUESTIONS: "The fact that Yasser 'Abed-Rabbo occupied the position of the second man in the PLO (the Secretary of its Executive Committee), i.e., in the Palestinian leadership, raised many questions and was the subject of wonder and puzzlement," writes Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in the Jordanian daily al-Ghad.
But his dismissal from his position now via a decision that the media say was issued by the PLO Executive Committee, and after 'Abed-Rabbo's absence from many Committee meetings, has also raised many questions and is the subject of further speculation and puzzlement. In fact, it is not possible to separate this decision from a series of recent events concerning certain figures who were at the center of events until the near past. For it is not possible to separate what is happening with 'Abed-Rabbo today from what happened with [former PA PM] Salam Fayyad, [former Fateh Security official] Mohammad Dahlan, and Bassam Zakarneh, and in my opinion also what happened to [former PA PM] Ahmad Qurei’ and others.
The puzzlement at 'Abed-Rabbo's leadership post stemmed from the fact that he had no significant popular base. He first became an Executive Committee member as the representative of a very small faction, but he left that faction and kept his post; in fact, his post was strengthened. Therefore, the question was whether he deserved to be where he was in light of the fact that had no representative standing.
But without necessarily working together, 'Abed-Rabbo, Dahlan, and Qurei' constituted the main pillars of the first years of President Mahmoud 'Abbas's presidency. Qurei' (the first PM under President 'Abbas) went out, largely because of his defeat in the  Fateh Central Committee elections, and Salam Fayyad joined during the phase that followed the  split between Gaza and the West Bank. Bassam Zakarneh’s star rose as head of the government employees' union who carried the banner of social and economic protest against Fayyad's government, and as the spokesman of a considerable part of Fateh that disagreed with Fayyad.
Qurei' joined the PLO Executive Committee on the independents' 'quota' but in a strange manner that conflicted with his past and present in Fateh. Dahlan faced different charges and was taken to court. He was also publicly attacked by the Fateh Movement. But the irony is that the charges leveled against him – and they all undoubtedly deserve to be pursued and should not be ignored – were raised before he was elected as a member of the Fateh Central Committee [in 2009].
Furthermore, it later became clear that the government employees' union, which for years determined the pace of life for days and weeks, was operating without any legal basis, as if it were some personal project. Its head and his deputy were both arrested and it was suspended.
Then there were lawsuits against the non-profit Filastin al-Ghad Company managed by Salam Fayyad, which was concerned with civilian developmental programs, but with no official explanation of what lies behind this action. The clearest thing we have in this regard, which also reveals part of what is happening, is something that harks back to 2014 when journalist Maher ash-Shalabi attacked Dahlan, Fayyad and 'Abed-Rabbo on a TV program, accusing them of meeting in the UAE to coordinate their actions [against the PA presidency]. 'Abed-Rabbo responded with an angry statement denying Shalabi’s claims at the time.
Meanwhile, and on Shalabi's program and around the end of 2014 as well, a major dispute broke out between Fateh Central Committee member 'Azzam al-Ahmad and [PA PM] Rami Hamdallah as to how the minister of education had been appointed, with accusations that there had been personal dimensions to the matter.
The question raised by all the above is not ‘what really happened then and what is behind what is happening now’? The question is: How can the right thing happen, at the right time, and for the right reasons? And more importantly, how can everything happen in a transparent and institutional manner?
When anarchy and confusion reach this point and when yesterday's leaders and institutions are pushed out of the picture, or when people are strangely appointed in certain posts, the best answer would be to step back and carry out a comprehensive review. There is need for a comprehensive change on constitutional, legal, and transparent bases, free the intermittent and gradual opening of mysterious and ambiguous files. These bases must clarify how persons are appointed or dismissed from certain positions, and how and why they are removed from them. And they must make this transparently clear and via the agencies in charge of accountability.
Foiling the reactivation and modernization of the PLO, and blocking PLC elections, are the main reasons for the absence of mechanisms for accountability, oversight and review, and perhaps for the presence of Yasser 'Abed-Rabbo and others in decision-making posts as well.
"At least, they are the main reason why there is no clear and undisputed legitimate framework that explains both their previous presence and their subsequent removal from these posts," concludes 'Azm.
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