The meeting of 15 leaders of state in Paris as part of the “friends of Syria” initiative is widely covered in the Arab press on Friday. The leaders are discussing measures to be taken if Bashar Assad does not stop the use of violence against civilians.
“Paris conference warns Assad, and Clinton refers to chapter seven,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, claiming that the United States is prepared to activate a UN clause that would deprive the Assad regime of weapons and impose travel bans on its officials. The article features of photo of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confiding in Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faysal, placed next to a photo of a fire blazing in a residential area of Homs following a bombardment.
In a similar vein, the headline of liberal London-based daily Al-Hayat reads “‘friends of Syria’ support Annan plan and indicate other options if it fails.” The article begins by quoting US defense secretary Leon Panetta as saying that the US is reviewing further punitive actions against the Syrian regime, adding that Assad’s departure is inevitable and only a matter of time.
Meanwhile, Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera reports that thousands of Syrians are expected to take part in nationwide demonstrations Friday under the banner “we shall win and Assad will be defeated.” The demonstrations are being organized by the senior general of the opposition’s Free Syrian Army, Mustafa Sheikh. Sheikh tells Al-Jazeera that the international monitor delegation, as well as its Arab League predecessor last Decembe, are nothing but an attempt by Assad to buy time. He calls on the international community to establish a military alliance not connected to the UN Security Council and attack the Syrian forces.
A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Abd Al-Rahman Rashed turns his sights to Turkey in an attempt to understand why Syria’s most powerful neighbor has not yet intervened militarily. “Turkey is an important country, and may be the only one capable of intervening to save the Syrian people, he writes.” Therefore, it is important to understand the position of Turkey’s internal opposition to intervention in Syria.
Rashed finds such an opponent in Can Atakli, a columnist for the Erdogan-affiliated daily Vatan. Atakli elaborates the reasons to deter Turkey from striking Syria, including fear of a Kurdish uprising in Turkey, fear of an Iranian and Russian retaliation, and non-sufficient evidence to prove that Assad is actually perpetrating a massacre.
“Luckily,” writes Rashed, “writers like Atakli are a minority, whether in Turkey or in Arab states. This time, the majority of people will not be fooled, even as opponents strike the chords of history or conspiracy theories.”
The Iranian threat in the eyes of Arab columnists
Many Arab columnists dedicate their editorials Friday to Iran and its policies.
“Iran is hard on the Gulf states but flexible in the nuclear negotiations,” writes Al-Hayat columnist Raghda Dragham. She writes that Saudi Arabia has understood that Syria is the linchpin in preventing Iranian hegemony in the region.
“Tehran understands that it will not receive the blessing of Western countries which it seeks regionally,” she adds. The Gulf Cooperation Council should be a regional alternative to Iranian influence in rescuing failing states like Yemen, Iraq and even Egypt from the claws of Iran, writes Dargham.
Iranian-born columnist Amir Taheri writes in A-Sharq Al-Awsat, that counter to popular belief – the United States is quite popular among the masses in Iran. American symbols and paraphernalia are everywhere in the Islamic Republic, he notes, and according to A Pew Group poll, the US is the most popular foreign country in Iran, more popular in Iran than in France.
Given this, asks Taheri, “why is the icy relationship between the US and Iran since 1979 not melting?” The answer lies in the legacy of Khomeini, which has made anti-Americanism a tenant of belief form post-revolutionary Iran.
However, he remarks, “Iran – as a people and a state – needs to rebuild its ties with the United States and end the useless conflict which has removed it from the international scene for over 30 years.”
Supreme leader Ali Khaminei faces a dilemma, writes Taheri: normalization with the US is essential to save Iran, but it will inevitably bring about an end to his own clerical regime.
“Million-man-march” in Egypt Friday
Scores of Egyptians are expected to take to the streets Friday in a call to transfer power to civil authorities and agree on a new constitution, reports hard-line Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. The rally was called for by 15 Egyptian parties and professional associations.
According to independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, Tahrir square is dominated by Islamist supporters of disqualified presidential nominee Hazem Abu-Ismail, who even set up their own podium.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri is attempting to deflect public anger by announcing, in the establishment daily Al-Ahram, that Saudi Arabia has pledged 2.7 billion dollars to support the Egyptian economy.
Following a government meeting Thrusday, Gaznouri told the Egyptian press that he has issued 120 decisions since taking office, and that his “national rescue government” has worked “since day one” to cooperate with the people and solve their problems.