Gulf unity on the back burner, for now
Arabic media review

Gulf unity on the back burner, for now

Syrian clashes move to the city of Rastan, Palestinian prisoners end their hunger strike, and Tunisia condemns Western intervention

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

Palestinian women protest in solidarity with hunger strikers (photo credit: AP photo/Hatem Moussa)
Palestinian women protest in solidarity with hunger strikers (photo credit: AP photo/Hatem Moussa)

A summit held Monday in the Saudi capital Riyadh to discuss a future union between six Gulf states leads the news in all major Arab newspapers Tuesday.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper based in London, reports that the conference ended in a recommendation to further study the matter at a later conference, which was unscheduled.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an Arab-nationalist daily, focuses on the failure of the summit to reach a conclusive decision on unity.

“Despite the optimistic statements and expectations… the leaders failed to ratify unity,” reads the article.

Most dailies refer to the Iranian rejection of the Saudi intention to unite with neighboring Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority. Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faysal said Iran “has no right to intervene in procedures between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, even if they reached unity.” According to A-Sharq Al-Awsat, the Iranian intervention in the matter constituted “a declaration of war.”

A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Mushary Al-Thaidy comments on the timing of the Gulf conference, just days after a historic visit of Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki to Iran.

“Is it not astonishing that the Gulf summit in Riyadh… comes days after statements by the Iranian deputy president Muhammad Reza Rahimi who told their ‘ally’ Nuri Al-Maliki that a ‘complete union’ must be forged between Iran and Iraq?!”

Syria: The battle moves to Rastan

The Syrian city of Rastan is in the center of Arab media coverage of events in the country as 33 people died there yesterday, mostly from the Syrian army.

“The Syrian army suffers heavy losses in an attempt to storm Rastan,” reads the headline in liberal, London-based daily Al-Hayat. The phrase “heavy losses” comes directly from a press statement released by the London-based monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, quoted in A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The photo in Al-Hayat displays a burning government tank in the city of Rastan.

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based news channel, reports that government arrest campaigns continue in Damascus and its environs. According to Al-Jazeera, Rastan fell completely out of the government’s control before the latest attempt to recapture it, which included heavy bombardment.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tareq Homayed refers to a statement by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, saying that Syrians face two options: adopting Bashar Assad’s reforms or complete destruction.

“This means that Nasrallah is like the tanks that patrol the Syrian cities with the inscription ‘Assad or nobody.’ These tanks circle the streets and he circles the media space to convey the same message as the tanks killing Syrians,” writes Homayed.

End to the Palestinian hunger strike: Failure or success?

Arab media differ in their coverage Tuesday of the agreement reached between Israeli Prison Service and Palestinian prisoners to end a mass hunger strike lasting 28 days.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Israeli authorities “succumbed to their demands,” but Al-Hayat reports that the agreement was criticized by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, which argued that Israeli administrative detention of Palestinians could continue despite the agreement.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi frames the agreement as one between “the Shin Bet and Palestinian prisoners, with Egyptian mediation.”

Tunisia rejects European conditions for aid

Saudi-owned news website Elaph reports that Tunisia’s government and opposition are in agreement in rejecting European conditions for providing financial aid to the country.

Europe has agreed to provide Tunisia with €100 million in aid on condition that Tunisia amend its media laws. The Tunisian government intends to reject the demand as foreign intervention in its internal affairs.

The tension in European-Tunisian relations comes on the backdrop of  criticism voiced by US Ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray following the trial of a TV station owner who aired the Iranian film “Persepolis” on his channel. Claims that the channel had no right to broadcast a film that personified God caused a public outcry in the country, which the American ambassador said “worried and disappointed” him.

The Tunisian government rejected the ambassador’s statement, saying it was “surprised” by his condemnation, noting that the government of Tunisia does not intervene in the judicial process.


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