Saudi Arabia features high on Arab news Thursday, in two separate contexts: a “summit” with Egypt’s new president Mohammed Morsi — in his first diplomatic visit to the country and unrest in the eastern part of the county in sectarian ferment.
“Saudi-Egyptian summit in Jeddah to discuss historic ties between the two countries,” reads Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The daily features close-up photos of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and his half-brother Crown Prince Salman warmly embracing a smiling Mohammed Morsi.
‘Can Saudi Arabia and Egypt find a formula for cooperation to fill the American void in the Middle East?’
London-based Al-Hayat, with an almost identical headline (as though copied from the same press release), quotes Morsi as saying that relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia are “terrific” and “exemplary.” Never mind that in April Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Cairo following anti-monarchy demonstrations across from the embassy.
Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency reports that Egyptian political and civil society organizations are demanding that Morsi raise the issue of Egyptians imprisoned in Saudi Arabia without trial, including attorney Mohammed Gizawi, whose arrest sparked April’s diplomatic crisis.
A Saudi columnist, Abd Al-Malik bin Ahmad Aal A-Sheikh, asserts in A-Sharq Al-Awsat that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have diminished in their regional influence, strengthening non-Arab regional powers such as Iran and Turkey.
‘President Mohammed Morsi did well to announce that he respects the verdict of the High Constitutional Court’
“Can Saudi Arabia and Egypt find a formula for cooperation to fill the American void in the Middle East?” asks Aal A-Sheikh. “What will be the geopolitical ramifications if Saudi Arabia and Egypt do not regain their pivotal regional role?”
Meanwhile, in the political standoff between Morsi and the Constitutional Court it seems as though the president blinked first, declaring on Wednesday that he will honor the court decision to disperse parliament, as well as his respect for Egypt’s judiciary in general. This story overpowers Morsi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in Egyptian press.
London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi praises Morsi’s statement.
“President Mohammed Morsi did well to announce that he respects the verdict of the High Constitutional Court,” reads the lead editorial Thursday. “Through this decision he distanced the country from a political collision that may have developed into a military one that would shake Egypt’s stability for months and perhaps years to come.”
Trouble in the east
Al-Quds Al-Arabi leads its news with reporting from eastern Saudi Arabia, where thousands of Shiites participated in the funeral of a man killed during anti-regime protests Sunday night.
Shiite activists accused the police of placing snipers on rooftops during the demonstrations in the city of Qatif, killing two protesters, an accusation authorities deny.
Reporting on the funeral was hard to come by in Arab mainstream media, most of which is owned fully or partially by Saudi Arabia.
Will Syrian diplomat defection snowball?
The defection Wednesday of Syria’s ambassador to Iraq Nawwaf Al-Faris is widely covered by Arab media.
Qatari-news channel Al-Jazeera broadcasts a video clip of Faris’ resignation announcement, with a large revolution flag as his backdrop. Faris calls on the Syrian army to “turn its cannons to the chests of the criminal members of the regime, murderers of the people.”
A-Sharq Al-Awsat asserts that Faris’ resignation will beckon further diplomatic defections from the Baath regime, reporting that an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, Miriam Al-Ris, said Faris will not be turned over to the Syrian regime. This is the first time Iraq is forced to take a diplomatic stance against Syria.
The daily quotes White House press secretary Jay Carney as saying that further defections are taking place within Bashar Assad’s close circle, emphasizing Assad’s growing isolation.
Ambassador Faris calls on the Syrian army to ‘turn its cannons to the chests of the criminal members of the regime, murderers of the people’
Saudi-owned daily Elaph reports that both liberal and conservative voices in the United States are beginning to prefer military intervention in Syria, either because of the “heinous crimes” perpetrated against civilians or because this would be a strategic blow to its close ally Iran. Unsurprisingly, the article reflects the official diplomatic position of Saudi Arabia on Syria: military intervention, now.
Meanwhile, Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya quotes a new report by Women Under Siege Project, claiming that the Assad regime is using rape as a war tactic against the opposition. The project has documented 81 cases of rape, mostly in the city of Homs.
The report could not verify that rape was perpetrated under government orders, but notes that two thirds of the women were violated by men in uniform or government-allied gangs. Most of the women were also associated with the opposition’s Free Syrian Army.