Arab Press: Fasten your seat-belts
There is turbulence in the Middle East as Bush enters a second term. Dina Ezzat
points to the warning signs
As US President George W Bush works on the composition of his new administration, Arab commentators tried to predict what this new team might have in store for the Middle East. And judging by Bush's early statements and selections, there is little cause for optimism.
Particularly disturbing for most commentators was the choice of US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, generally recognised by the Arab press as "the lady who is Israel's best friend in Washington", for the post of secretary of state.
"Bush's second term to be marked with hard- liner imprints", was the headline of Fahmy Howeidy's article in the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday. According to Howeidy, "the signals that are being emitted from the White House to American public opinion during the first three weeks of Bush's second tenure is that the second term of this US president will bring much more of what people liked about his first term."
For Howeidy and several other commentators, assigning key foreign policy posts in the new administration to hawkish staff is only one of many signs that Bush's second term in office is unlikely to bring this region, Israel aside, any good news.
Other signs monitored by Howeidy include the fierce military assault on Falluja, much crueler in terms of oppression and torture than what the world saw when the horrific images of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib appeared during Bush's first term in office.
Howeidy is also disturbed by Bush's early statements on the Palestinian cause "which seem to completely overlook the hopes of the Palestinian people". Washington's verbal assault on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who "dared to criticise, ever so politely, US policy when he called its invasion of Iraq illegitimate" was noted by Howeidy as yet another indication that the second term in office will demonstrate worse signs still of US hegemony.
"[Judging by] the early signs that appeared during the first three weeks of Bush's second term, we have the right to ask what this term could bring about for us," Howeidy stated. He argued that a more significant move on the part of Arab countries was to start thinking about what they must do to deal with what's ahead. "The time has come for us to re-assess our stands and our direction."
Also on Friday, in the Lebanese daily Al- Mustaqbal, Mohamed Al-Samak posed questions about the future of Arab, and for that matter Muslim, relations with the US during Bush's second term in office. Like Howeidy, Al-Samak had little, if any optimism, to share with his readers. Moreover, he seemed concerned that Bush's alleged war on terrorism might bring more harm to Muslim countries that have already suffered a serious blow to their image during his first term after being associated with terrorism.
However, as far as Al-Samak is concerned, if Bush's second term is to bring about more harm to the Arab and Muslim world, then the US will sustain damage. "The reputation of the US has never been subjected to as much harm as during the past four years" with the unmistakable signs of unfairness that this administration has shown towards the Arab and Muslim world, Al-Samak said. He added that if Bush was clever enough, he would spend the next four years repairing the damage that had been done during his first term in office. To do so, Al-Samak advised, Bush needs to "start by ending [his artificial] connection between the war on international terrorism and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He needs to stop calling [the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon a man of peace and to stop covering up for him in and out of the UN for the crimes he commits on a massive scale."
And it was not just writers like Howeidy and Al-Samak, who are known for their nationalist orientation, that were upset by the early White House messages regarding the region. Even Arab- American writer Youssef Ibrahim seemed ready to show concern. In his article published by the UAE daily Al-Ittihad also on Friday, Ibrahim was particularly disturbed by the US approach towards the Iranians. Ibrahim might not have explicitly said so but the goal of his article was clear: the US might jump into an unnecessary military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear policies. Ibrahim was not sure whether this was inevitable but he was certain that Washington was taking the region into yet another phase of political, and perhaps even military, confrontation. "So let us all fasten our seat-belts," he wrote.
Throughout the week, there were more editorials expressing concern over what the Bush administration might or might not do. In the opinion pages of the Saudi-funded daily Al-Hayat on Saturday, Palestinian commentator Hani Al-Masri warned that the Bush administration will cut down the size of the Palestinian file to Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement no matter what this means for the Palestinians or other Arabs.
On Monday, the editorial of the UAE daily Al- Khaleej blamed the Arab fear of the US for their failure to demonstrate support for the Palestinians on Palestine Solidarity Day on Monday.
And on Tuesday, Egyptian commentator Mustafa El-Feki argued in an article in Al-Hayat that the best thing for Arabs was not to expect the Bush administration to show consideration and to take the initiative by offering Washington some positive ideas that could be implemented on the ground.