Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Ankara to Algiers

Al-Ahram Weekly

Syria continued to preoccupy the commentators. The Syrian crisis tackled from various, and often conflicting perspectives engaged the pundits. On another serious subject, Abdel-Rahman Al-Rashed tackled the prickly question of Iran’s widely-perceived interference in Arab affairs in the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat. “Iran does not believe that Obama will resort to military intervention, no matter how severe regional conflicts might become. Under the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard, Iran plans to make progress and take ground in Syria and Iraq, while simultaneously threatening the region’s oil producing countries, such as Bahrain,” Al-Rashed mused. “Is the Arab world going to witness new developments in the regional confrontation with Iran? I’m afraid so. The region is witnessing political and military escalations which have most recently included the shooting down of a surveillance aircraft over Bahraini airspace. According to the Syrian opposition, a similar aircraft was shot down in Al-Qusayr in Syria,” Al-Rashed observed.

Al-Rashed is the general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. “If this is true — if Iran has developed the audacity to direct aircraft to remote airspaces, effectively violating the norms of political engagement — it is a sign of dangerous developments. These developments also include Iran sending soldiers to Syria; the establishment of espionage units in Bahrain along with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; and Yemen receiving ships carrying weapons. These are indications of the increasing aggression of Iranian policy,” Asharq Al-Awsat postulated. Also in Asharq Al-Awsat Hussein Shobokshi who hosts the weekly current affairs programme Al-Takreer on the Dubai-based pan-Arab satellite television channel Al-Arabiya wrote on a lighter note, but no less potent. “I could not believe my eyes as I read a trendy news item. I read it again and still could not believe what I was reading. The general manager of the Express Mail Service in Saudi Arabia Hamad Al-Bakr ‘reacted’ emphatically to a post on Twitter that carried a simple but distressing question: ‘Do you accept the Saudi post services ruining a bride’s wedding day?’ immediately followed by a ‘no’. The date of the wedding was on a Friday, the Arab world’s weekend, and that the wedding dress, meant to be delivered by EMS, hadn’t arrived. Al-Bakr responded to this by requesting the parcel code and finding out that the dress was sent from Jeddah on Tuesday, arrived in Riyadh on Thursday, but hadn’t yet arrived to Huraymalaa, the bride’s hometown. The general manager immediately ordered that the post office be opened and the parcel be retrieved. He then personally delivered the dress in his own private car to the family who received him with overwhelming joy,” Shobokshi narrated the interesting bridal tale.

“Having heard of this noble deed, the highly experienced president of the Saudi post Mohamed Saleh bin Taher Benten hastened to honour Hamad Al-Bakr in a public gathering,” Shobokshi summed up.

Turkey, too, received much attention in Asharq Al-Awsat. “Soon after the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002, Turkey launched an ambitious foreign policy agenda to make itself a stand-alone regional leader. With this new vision, Turkey looked to cast itself as a central actor, wielding soft power to shape the Middle East,” wrote Soner Cagaptay, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Indeed, Turkey stands poised to take on its regional rival Iran — the struggle for supremacy is reminiscent of the ancient conflict between the mediaeval Ottomans and the Safavids of Persia. Syria has become the battleground for the contemporary conflict between Iran and Turkey. Ankara has aligned itself with the oil-rich Gulf Arab nations. “The Syrian war and Iran’s regional hegemonic designs have, unfortunately, stunted most of Ankara’s ambitions,” the writer notes. “The AKP’s mind-set around 2002 was that Ankara had played second fiddle to Washington for too long in the Middle East. Turkey could become a regional power only if it stood alone in the region,” Cagaptay concluded.

Syria, Turkey and Iran were similarly key aspects of other publications. Walid Choukeir writing in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat was particularly critical of Washington’s hands-off policy towards the Syrian crisis. “It was a deplorable warning that was issued by United States Secretary of State John Kerry to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, namely that not exploiting the opportunity of the Geneva Two Conference means the war will continue, and that there may be more ‘ethnic cleansing,’ more massacres. Syria may break up into different parts.”

Kerry acted as if he was informing Al-Assad that if he did not go along with a political solution, agreed to by Washington and Moscow, at an international conference, the latter would deter Al-Assad from committing more massacres, or frighten him about continuing to fight with an unprecedented ferocity against rebels and civilians. Or, perhaps the “terribleness” of what Kerry was warning against would stop Assad from destroying his country with Scud missiles and barrel bombs, which have turned entire neighbourhoods of Syrian cities, and many villages, into rubble. Al-Assad would also refrain from using toxic chemical weapons and Sarin gas, or at least use them sparingly, so that the international community could get used to this aspect of the war raging in Syria,” Choukeir concluded.

“Kerry knows all this well, to the degree that it is disappointing to see what he said this week, warning of division, destruction, and massacres if Al-Assad does not respond to the political solution required by Geneva Two,” the writer mused. “America and Western Europe fear seeing the chaos that is enveloping Syria spreading to the region and neighbouring countries, especially Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, which has begun to appear, and more clearly.” Last, but not least, was the concern expressed primarily in Algerian papers about the health of Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika. Algerian dailies such as Al-Fajr and Al-Khabar stressed Algeria’s Prime Minister Abdel-Malek Sellal’s remarks, reacting to reports that President Bouteflika was seriously ill. Sellal said the 76-year-old president was being treated at the Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris, Bouteflika was convalescing. Independent Algerian dailies, however, questioned the secrecy that surrounds the president’s health and lamented that he had to be flown to France, the former colonial power for treatment. To add insult to injury, Algerian pundits were outraged that their president had been transferred to the Institution Nationale des Invalides, a specialised home and hospital for war veterans. Algerian newspaper editor Hisham Aboud warned that “Bouteflika was in a deep coma and had already been brought back to Algeria”. “His health is declining, which is why they transferred him to Algiers,” declared Aboud. “The Val-de-Grace hospital could no longer help. We’ve been told he’s in a deep coma that can go on for days or weeks. That is what we put in those two pages,” reported Aboud, the editor-in-chief of the Algerian daily Djaridati.


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