A French statement supporting a transitional government and the downing of a government helicopter are leading news coverage of events in Syria Tuesday.

“Damascus fears regime retaliation following helicopter downing,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat. The daily reports that the residents of three east Damascus neighborhoods, Qaboon, Jobar and Zamalka, are fearful of harsh government retaliation for downing the helicopter in their area, which the daily dubs “a major morale victory for the opposition.”

Al-Hayat claims the incident proves the existence of anti-aircraft weapons in the hands of the Free Syrian Army, despite the reluctance of Western powers to provide such weapons, which they fear may fall to hostile elements in Syria.

‘Damascus fears regime retaliation following helicopter downing’

Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat leads its Syria coverage with the announcement of French President Francois Hollande that France will recognize a temporary government in Syria, if such a body is formed.

Meanwhile, all major Arab dailies quote the statement of Syrian State Minister Ali Haidar during a press conference in Tehran, whereby “the resignation of Bashar Assad is rejected.” Haidar’s unequivocal statement ends the optimism following a hint last week by deputy prime minister Qadri Ismail that Assad may consider stepping down.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tareq Homayed bashes a proposal by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to establish a four-country committee to solve the Syrian crisis, comprising Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.

“Is Iran part of the solution in Syria?!” asks Homayed with disbelief. “When the Revolutionary Guard vows to protect Assad in the face of his unarmed people, how can Iran be the solution in Syria?”

Morsi’s presidential team – Islamist or diverse?

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi announced his presidential team Monday, which is markedly politically and religiously diverse. A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports on its front page that Morsi’s team of four assistants and 17 advisers includes Christians and a women, a point often raised as problematic by conservative Islamists.

The daily notes that politically, Morsi’s team includes leftists and liberals in addition to members of his Muslim Brotherhood Party and even Islamic fundamentalists (Salafists).

But Al-Hayat has a completely different take on the team. “Egypt: Morsi’s assistant team deepens the Islamization of the presidency,” reads its headline.

“A half-Islamic presidential team,” reads the headline of independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, The daily breaks down the entire presidential team of 21 members to its political and sectarian components: 11 Islamists, including five Muslim Brotherhood members, three members of the Salafi Nur party and one member of the extremist Gamaa Islamiyah, formerly considered a terror organization. Two Coptic members, three women and three journalists.

Meanwhile, London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi leads its news with a report that Egypt has asked its ambassador in Saudi Arabia to demand that the kingdom prevent the flogging of an Egyptian national, Najlaa’ Wafa, held in a Saudi prison.

Wafa is accused of defrauding a Saudi princess out of two million rials ($533,000). She was sentenced by a Saudi court to five years in prison and 500 lashes, according to Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

Tunisia cracks down on freedom of press

Arab media dedicates much attention Tuesday to the struggle between Tunisia’s Islamist government and state media.

Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reports fears in Tunisia that the struggle may take on political dimensions following an announcement by Tunisia’s foreign minister Rafiq Abdul Salam regarding the government’s intention to “purify” the media. The media, according to Al-Arabiya, is controlled by “secularists,” whereas the government is led by the Islamist En-Nahda party.

A state TV station manager has already been replaced, the channel reports, as have a number of radio station directors.

‘Use of the word ‘purification’ … evokes fear and concern. We wish he [the foreign minister] would not have used it’

The lead editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi reminds its readers that suppression of freedom of speech is what led to the Tunisia revolution.

“Use of the word ‘purification’… evokes fear and concern,” writes the editor. “We wish he [the foreign minister] would not have used it,  especially in the state of agitation some of the journalistic circles are in. It may be worthwhile reminding him that Tunisian media welcomed the revolution and stood alongside the revolutionaries, helping in the transitional period following the revolution’s success.”

But Saudi-owned news site Elaph sympathizes with the government and its motives.

“The Tunisian revolution granted the media a wide margin of free expression,” claims the site, “but high-ranking state officials began to be attacked and insulted, whether through articles in daily newspapers or television programs.”

“This verbal violence represents the lack of a clear moral code in the field of Internet and conventional media,” claims Tunisian sociologist Salem Labidh.