Following Houla, Syria is out in the cold
Arabic media review

Following Houla, Syria is out in the cold

Editorials debate the two Egyptian candidates and Arabs fear the West may fall for Iran

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Anti-Assad protesters drive by the Syrian embassy in Berlin, Germany (photo credit: AP Photo/dapd/Clemens Bilan)
Anti-Assad protesters drive by the Syrian embassy in Berlin, Germany (photo credit: AP Photo/dapd/Clemens Bilan)

The deportation of Syrian ambassadors from Western capitals on Tuesday in protest against last week’s Houla massacre is leading the news in most Arab dailies Wednesday.

“The West deports Syrian diplomats and the French president hints at a military option,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, published in London. The article features a photo of an anti-Assad picket sign across from the Syrian Embassy in London. The daily quotes a statement by French President Francois Hollande favoring military intervention with the agreement of the UN Security Council, as well as American reservation about such a move. However, the Americans are not taking any options off the table, A-Sharq Al-Awsat stresses.

Columnist Abd Al-Rahman Rashed discusses the “Yemeni option” for removing Assad from power peacefully, like the Gulf inititiative which dethroned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Rashed claims the Americans view this option as “elegant” and prefer it to armed intervention in Syria.

“However, Syria is not Yemen and Assad is not Saleh,” writes Rashed in A-Sharq Al-Awsat. “The amount of blood spilled and the depth of hatred between the warring sides is not comparable to what we saw in Yemen. Having said that, if this could be implemented quickly it would be a good solution for Syrians and for the world, but I highly doubt the applicability of the Yemeni solution in Syria.”

Saudi-owned news website Elaph cites an interview conducted by the Israeli daily Haaretz with a Syrian opposition general who reports that the opposition has drafted a plan to take control of the regime’s chemical weapon caches in the immediate aftermath of its collapse.

Abdullah Iskandar, a columnist with London-based daily Al-Hayat, chastises the West for waiting for the Houla massacre to warn against the dangers of civil war in Syria.

“The initial reaction of the Syrian regime to the protest movement, since it erupted, was marked with civil violence. The regime only widened this violence which spread across the country and spilled over its borders,” writes Iskandar.

The Brotherhood’s rush to the center

Conciliatory statements by Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi are being widely reported by Arab media Wednesday.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based daily, reports that Mursi calmed secular fears of an Islamic takeover by promising to allow women the freedom to dress as they like. A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports his promise to nominate Copts for government positions and refrain from nominating a Muslim Brotherhood prime minister.

Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera reports that members of the campaign of left-wing former candidate Hamdeen Sabahi dismissed Mursi’s promises as insincere. According to the channel, which interviews members of various opposition groups in Egypt, Mursi promised to include youth activists in the government “in numbers that will represent their sacrifices.”

Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor-in-chief Abd Al-Bari Atwan writes that the choice between Shafiq and Mursi is a choice between two evils.

“Fear is the name of the game in the next round, and apprehension of the future is the common denominator uniting most voters. There is a wide sector which fears Ahmad Shafiq and his tenure if he wins one way or another, and there is another wide sector no less important which fears the Brotherhood, their implementation of the Sharia and the establishment of a purely religious state,” writes Atwan.

“The Egyptian people, who mostly lean towards the center and favor peaceful opposition, must chose between two right-wing candidates in the next and crucial round of elections.”

But Tareq Homayed, editor-in-chief of A-Sharq Al-Awsat, believes that Atwan presents a false dichotomy.

“Egyptians ask themselves today: who should I vote for in the second round? Muhammad Mursi of the Brotherhood or Ahmad Shafiq, who will restore the Mubarak regime once again? But of course, the question itself is a mistake. In order for Egypt to proceed logically, according to the art of the possible, Egyptians must ask themselves the correct answer, which is: do I want a religious or a secular state?”

“If the next president is Shafiq, he will not be able to be another Mubarak,” concludes Homayed.

Arab fear of Iranian-Western rapprochement

The new round of nuclear talks between Iran and the West is not leaving everyone happy. Al-Hayat columnist Raghda Dargham comments about Arab angst of a possible Iranian-Western rapprochement.

“In this extremely sensitive time for the Arab region and the Middle East, there is grave fear that Western countries, and especially the United States, will fall for the promises emanating from the Iranian clerics, just as they fell for the promises that came from the Muslim Brotherhood men months ago,” writes Dargham.


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