Leaders of the Syrian opposition have agreed to attend today’s Conference of Friends of Syria in Rome and are expected to demand substantial military support from the representatives of nations in attendance, particularly the US, Arab newspapers report.
The Syrian opposition had previously decided to boycott the conference to protest “the silence of the international community in the face of the regime’s crimes.”
“Washington considering arming the Syrian opposition” reads a main headline in the Doha-based Al-Jazeera. Representing a new approach to resolving the fighting in Syria, the US government and European Union are weighing supplying the Free Syria Army with bulletproof flak jackets, armored vehicles, and military training.
Since the uprising in Syria began two years ago, the US government has provided only humanitarian assistance such as food, medicine, and blankets; items that aren’t particularly effective in the fight against President Bashar Assad. Saudi Arabia has reportedly already been buying leftover weapons from the Balkan wars in Croatia to deliver to the Syrian opposition.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country is Syria’s closest ally outside the region, is frantically trying to arrange for representatives of the Syrian government and opposition to meet to begin negotiating a political solution to the conflict. According to the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Mouaz Al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian opposition, has stated his willingness to negotiate only if the Syrian government agrees to continue issuing passports and other documents to all Syrians living abroad, regardless of their reasons for doing so or political affiliations, and releases the 120,000 political prisoners currently being held in Syrian prisons. Syria’s interior minister agreed to the first demand yesterday.
“The opposition… is firing off contradictory statements about its willingness to negotiate,” Lavrov said. “The regime in Damascus is willing to dialogue even with those who carry arms, but the political opposition insists that negotiations must automatically lead to the departure of President Bashar Assad.”
Leaders of Syria’s neighboring countries, desperately fearing even greater regional instability in the months to come, made heated comments to various newspapers expressing their vastly different vantage points.
“Some countries are wondering who will succeed Assad when he steps down from power,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, a harsh critic of the Assad regime. “I have always said that the great [Syrian] revolution came with its leaders…. The Syrian people are struggling for freedom. Sooner or later, the abuser, this brutal and despotic regime of Assad and his allies, will leave power. It is not possible for them to stay.”
The Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, the Shiite leader of Syria’s neighbor to the east, couldn’t disagree more, saying that the fall of Assad will only lead to civil war and sectarian strife throughout Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
“If the world does not agree to support a peaceful solution through dialogue, I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Maliki, who is facing serious threats against his own hold on power, stated. “If the opposition emerges victorious there will be civil war in Lebanon and Iraq and serious divisions in Jordan.”
Maliki has publicly bashed Qatar and Turkey for their funding of the Syrian opposition, which he says is tantamount to “supporting al-Qaeda and a declaration of war on Iraq.”
Not wanting to miss out on the chance to air an opinion, Jordanian Information Minister Samih Al-Maaytah, whose country has absorbed hundreds of thousands Syrian refugees, said Jordan, too, is a victim of the Syria crisis.
Speaking to Al-Hayat, a newspaper also based in London, Maaytah declared, “Jordan is paying for the Syria crisis, and not only on the refugee issue… The border between our countries promotes smuggling and intruders, and the amount of aid provided by the international community to Syrian refugees is simply not enough.”
YouTube sensation tears apart Tunisia, Egypt
Angry conservative Salafist protesters stormed a language institute in Tunis yesterday in an effort to prevent students from filming a performance of the “Harlem Shake,” a YouTube viral sensation that involves dancing wildly, according to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya.
Students at the Bourguiba Language Institute set to perform the “Harlem Shake” reportedly shouted “Get out! Get out” at the Salafist students, some of whom were women dressed in veils, and drove them away. One of the Salafist students, bearded and wearing military gear, was carrying a firebomb. Teachers and students surrounded him, preventing him from hurling it.
“Israelis are killing our brothers in Palestine, and you are dancing?!” the Salafist activists shouted at the students. The students successfully filmed their video shortly after.
‘Israelis are killing our brothers in Palestine, and you are dancing?!’
On Saturday, after teenagers at a Tunis secondary school filmed a version of the “Harlem Shake” of their own, Tunisian Minister of Education Abdul Latif Obaid ordered a criminal investigation. This, reports Al-Quds Al-Arabi, has prompted Tunisian students to protest in front of the Ministry of Education building, leading to confrontations with the police.
Protesters threw rocks at police, who responded with teargas, and organizers are threatening to dance to the “Harlem Shake” on Friday in front of the ministry building itself.
Likewise, the Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that Egyptians are planning a “Harlem Shake” demonstration of their own tonight in front of the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters to protest the rule of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Organizers of the demonstration say their Facebook invitation has received over 1,300 confirmed attendees.
The organizers are asking participants to refrain from attending in their underwear to respect Egypt’s strict public decency laws. They are being encouraged to dress up as sheep or Mickey Mouse instead.
Last Saturday, four Egyptian pharmaceutical students were arrested after publicly filming themselves dancing in their underwear to the viral dance hit, which their audience allegedly took great offense to.