Iraq’s perturbed political scene continues to occupy the front pages of Arabic dailies on Wednesday.
“Maliki enters his final year [in office] engulfed by protests led by extremist clerics,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, which cites a verbal exchange between hardliner Shiite cleric and politician Muqtada Sadr and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
Sadr on Tuesday threatened Maliki with an “Iraqi Spring” and the prime minister for his part threatened to disperse anti-government protests with force.
During a press conference, Sadr accused Maliki of turning Iraq into a laughingstock and called on him to resign rather than call for early elections, as he recently considered doing.
According to Al-Hayat, protests are already taking place across Sunni areas of Iraq, but “soon enough supporters of Sadr will join them in Shiite cities.”
“Maliki threatens to use force in Anbar; and Barazani: The nation is unraveling,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. According to the daily, protesters in the country’s western Anbar province blocked the international highway leading to Syria and Jordan. In response, Maliki said “we have been patient with you for a long time.”
But Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera reports that Maliki will soon accede to a major demand by the protesters and ask President Jalal Talabani to order the release of 700 female Iraqi prisoners, arrested on criminal counts. Other female prisoners incarcerated for “terrorism” will be transferred to prisons in the provinces.
Bassam Badarin, writing for London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, claims that the Sunni protests in Iraq have changed Maliki’s attitude toward his western neighbor, Jordan, 180 degrees.
“Maliki completely shut his ears from listening to his Jordanian neighbors; suspended most commercial contracts… he hasn’t granted any oil concessions of any kind and hasn’t even provided the oil quantities needed by the Jordanian market even at international prices,” writes Badarin.
“Suddenly the data changed and Maliki rushes to Amman. Before his last visit there, he sends two messages, the first speaking of his interest in activating the bilateral ministerial committees, and the second sending a free delivery of oil to Jordan as a token of his friendship.”
Egypt: Coalitions form ahead of elections
Al-Hayat reports that Egypt’s extremist Salafi parties are uniting under a new coalition titled “the free nation coalition,” posing a counterbalance to the liberal “National Salvation Front.”
According to the daily’s Egypt reporter Muammad Salah, “it seems as though Egypt is in for a hot election campaign, as the battle of coalitions has begun early.” Parliamentary elections in Egypt are scheduled for March.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali announced on Tuesday that the presidency was not responsible for statements made by Muslim Brotherhood official Issam Aryan, who serves as head of the Freedom and Justice party.
Last week, Aryan called on Jews native to Egypt to return to the country, speculating that Israel will not longer exist in 10 years.
On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates arrested a cell it said belonged to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, accusing it of recruiting Egyptians living in the Emirates. The story leads the news in Al-Quds Al-Arabi Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghazlan, denied that the men arrested had anything to do with his organization.
“The Brotherhood does not intervene in the matters of other states. We care about the good relations between Egypt and the Emirates.”