Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 October - 31 November 2012
Issue No. 1120
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Gamal Nkrumah

Beirut to Kuwait and back

Gamal Nkrumah on the Arab Spring spreading fast in the Levant

The oil-rich, albeit tiny, state of Kuwait may not make it to the headlines very often these days. It has hardly done so since the late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein invaded the country in 1990 on the pretext that Kuwait was stealing Iraqi petroleum through slant drilling and promptly annexed it as Iraq's 19th province and the subsequent First Gulf War.

In general, there is an understanding that dealing with Kuwait is not a particularly monumental project. As should be, the only question mark surrounds the role of Kuwait's parliamentarians as tens of thousands of Kuwaitis took to the streets in a clear show of civil unrest.

At a time when the Arab Spring appears to be spreading fast to the Levant, the topic of Lebanon could hardly be more pertinent. The assassination of General Wissam Al-Hassan hit the headlines like a thunderbolt. Immediately the Druze leader and head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblat and former Lebanese prime minister Saad Al-Hariri accused Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad of committing the crime.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati appeared at first to be in a bind over Al-Hassan's assassination. To begin with there were hysterical public demonstrations calling for the immediate resignation of the Mikati government. But then everyone who has a stake in the country's future quickly realised that Mikati's departure will not necessarily resolve anything.

Dealing with democracy has indeed become a very difficult task. The Arab Spring seems to have spread to Kuwait where protesters took to the streets even though they emphasised that they did not intend to topple the ruling Al-Sabah royal family. Their aim, the protesters stressed, was to buttress the democratic protests and designated last Sunday "Dignity Day" ahead of parliamentary elections on 1 December. The Kuwaiti authorities retaliated by banning gatherings of more than 20 people and bestowed the oil-rich country's police with special powers to disperse protesters.

The Kuwaiti official papers stressed that troublemakers must be brought to book. Writing in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Anbaa Khadija Al-Mohamed in an article entitled 'So that dialogue prevails' noted that a spirit of tolerance and plurality ought to prevail in Kuwait.

"Dialogue is a permanent need in all circumstances and we must subscribe to the philosophy of respect for the other, acceptance of the other regardless of whether they hold views contrary to ours," Al-Mohamed warned.

In much the same vein, Dhaar Al-Rashidi also writing in Al-Anbaa urged the importance of the spirit of reconciliation. In a provocatively entitled 'I am Osama bin Laden' Al-Rashidi commented on the events that led to the worst ever demonstrations in Kuwait since the country gained independence from Britain 50 years ago. "I don't know any of protesters personally except for my colleague Fahd Al-Qubeini. However, the interior ministry considers Al-Qubeini to be the chief instigator of the trouble," Al-Rashidi concluded. He noted that the Kuwaiti citizens should be convinced of the importance of democracy and freedom of expression within the general atmosphere of magnanimity and open-mindedness.

"The Kuwaiti people must also work together to establish a genuine political settlement. Still, the authorities and the protesters must press on with peace efforts. It will not be easy, but everyone must cooperate," Al-Rashidi extrapolated.

Scepticism, nevertheless, remains as far as the Lebanese crisis is concerned. But, there are signs that the confessional-based Lebanese political establishment views its responsibilities seriously.

Arab pundits and commentators concur that freedom of expression is the essence of democracy -- with the notable exception of the Islamists who incidentally won popular legitimacy and power with the onset of the Arab Spring.

Editor-in-Chief of the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat Ghassan Charbel focussed on Iran. "Look at the region in the few years that preceded the 'Arab Spring'. Iran was in the driving seat. Its influence in Iraq was plain to see, and it bided its time waiting for the withdrawal of the US troops. Its ties with Syria were deep while the balance was clearly tipped in favour of Tehran. Iran explicitly led the so-called pro-resistance axis, which ran from Tehran, to Syria and Lebanon all the way to Palestine through Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Charbel expounded.

"In the second half of the past decade, Iran made some unprecedented successes. First, there was the July war in Lebanon, when Iranian missiles became part of the equation of Israeli security. Then there was the Gaza war, which perpetuated the Iranian role in the Palestinian arena, through Iran's Sunni ally Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood," wrote Charbel in a piece entitled 'Iran in the 'Mother of all Battles'".

The Lebanese commentator Selim Nassar wrote a caustic commentary in Al-Hayat, an opinion piece entitled 'The Lebanese crisis between the logic of the state and the reasoning of the resistance'.

Taking a similar line, George Samaan in Al-Hayat wrote 'Blocked road in Syria, blocked road in Lebanon'.

"Whether the government of Najib Mikati stays or goes is not a solution to the Lebanese crisis that ensued with the assassination of Wissam Al-Hassan," Samaan stressed.

"The decision on this matter has nothing to do with the balance of power between 8 March and 14 March. Rather, it has more to do with wider regional calculations," Samaan noted. "The only road unblocked in Lebanon is that the warring Lebanese protagonists leave aside their ideological squabbles and focus on the greater good of the country."

Also in Al-Hayat Lebanese pundit Adel Malik penned a thought-provoking piece entitled 'The truce of Eid Al-Adha, and the cessation of the Syrian virus'. He noted that the truce cannot hold for long because of the frustration of the bulk of the Lebanese and Syrian people with the beleaguered government of Al-Assad. That Al-Assad is on his way out has become increasingly evident.

Slain Lebanese security head Al-Hassan was killed by a car bomb on Friday, and his departure from the Lebanese political scene is widely seen as an act of desperation by Al-Assad and his cohorts in Lebanon. The Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati is regarded a Syrian stooge by a considerable number of Lebanese political forces and his pro-Syrian government Lebanese cabinet came under intense fire from various papers. Al-Hassan, after all, led the investigation that implicated Syria and Hizbullah in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri in 2005.

The London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat likewise highlighted the Lebanese crisis. 'Lebanon is in mourning,' trumpeted the paper's front-page headline. Ghassan Al-Imam in an article in Asharq Al-Awsat entitled 'Lebanon in need of an alternative redemption government' stressed that "the close social and historical ties between Syria and Lebanon cannot diminish the hideous offensiveness of a heinous crime. The vicious vengeance meted out against General Wissam Al-Hassan meant that not even one piece of his mortal remains was to be found to put him to rest in his coffin," Al-Imam lamented.

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