A series of strikes and demonstrations took place across Syria on Friday, causing the Arab media to reflect on the rapidly deteriorating security condition, which has now reached the capital Damascus.

“Damascus strikes widen, and international debate surrounding the ‘military option’,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The daily reports that shops in the ancient marketplace of Damascus shut their doors three days ago, and on Wednesday and Thursday the rest of the city’s commercial districts joined the strike. The article also quotes a new number of victims is Syria according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: 15,423 people. The photo in the daily’s article features a line of fire across a Damascus road, emanating from a number of burning tires.

The London-based daily Al-Hayat focuses on the international dimension of the Syrian crisis. “International warnings of a ‘catastrophic civil war’ in Syria,” reads its headline. The daily reports on opposition calls to go out and demonstrate for the sake of the victims of the Houla massacre. The Friday rallies are held under the banner of “the children of Houla are the catalyst of victory.”

Meanwhile, pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, based in London, begins its coverage of Syria by noting the deep divides within the Syrian opposition. The daily quotes a denial issued by a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army on the ground of statements made by the exiled general Riyad Al-Asaad, the official Free Syrian Army spokesman. The spokesman in Syria said that only members of the opposition “on the ground” are permitted to speak on behalf of the organization.

According to A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Amir Taheri, the results of Egypt’s first round of elections can be describes by one word: expected.

Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera sees the cup half-full when quoting US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on intervention in Syria. Al-Jazeera’s headline reads “Washington is willing to intervene militarily in Syria.” Only inside the article is Panetta’s statement qualified by noting that any military intervention will be conditioned on a UN Security Council resolution.

Al-Hayat columnist Walid Shaqir derides the expulsion of Syrian ambassadors from Western capitals this week, saying it is only an expression of Western anger with Assad, but places no real pressure on the regime.

“The expulsion of the ambassadors … may be an alternative to constructing a clear practical stance that would stop the violence in Syria. International military intervention is virtually impossible, as Moscow goes to great pains by saying that, along with China, they are opposed to it, because Western countries themselves are not rushing to support it, at least not in the foreseeable future.”

Al-Hayat columnist Jihad Khazen writes that the Houla massacre is ‘a point of no return’ for the Syrian regime.

“This regime acts every day as though it is determined to dig its own grave,” writes Khazen.

Egyptian Military cancels 31-year-long state of emergency

Egypt is widely covered in Arab press Friday, with newspapers focusing on two issues: the cancellation of the country’s long-standing state of emergency this Sunday and the ruling in the trial of deposed president Hosni Mubarak Saturday.

“Egypt: the military ends the emergency and the Brotherhood attacks political forces,” reads the headline of A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The photo depicts a woman with a full face veil demonstrating against the military regime at Tahrir Square following the first round of elections this week. The daily reports that the Muslim Brotherhood is unwilling to deliver official pledges for safeguarding Egypt’s secular identity. Muhammad Ghazlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, called these demands “extortion which has reached the level of provocation.”

“Egypt: Islamists join mobilization to ‘isolate Shafiq’ and the Brotherhood voice reservations on Abu-Fattouh’s conditions for supporting Morsi,” reads the headline of Al-Hayat.

“This regime acts every day as though it is determined to dig its own grave,” writes Khazen.

The daily outlines 4 demands presented by presidential candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh’s in a statement Thursday, as conditions for his support: the president must be independent of “affiliations” (unclear if business or political); the nomination of a “national personality,” unaffiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, as prime minister; the recreation of a constitutional assembly “to portray national unity”; and finally — the nomination of vice presidents with clear responsibilities.

An editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi notes that the timing of the SCAF decision to end the state of emergency is no coincidence. Two weeks before the elections, the military wishes to send a signal to the electorate that under the next president, Egypt “will not be governed by emergency laws that grant the president sweeping rights to curtail personal freedoms.”

“General Ahmed Shafiq, who champions security control and safeguarding the country’s stability may be the biggest beneficiary from this move … because any popular move made by the Military Council will benefit him and strengthen his chances against the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi,” writes the unnamed columnist.

According to A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Amir Taheri, the results of Egypt’s first round of elections can be describes by one word: expected.

‘The expulsion of the ambassadors … may be an alternative to constructing a clear practical stance that would stop the violence in Syria.’

“The results were to be expected because they express the political reality in Egypt at present. Since Egypt gained its independence in the 1920s, its politics were subjected to two basic elements: firstly, the military — around which the modern state circulated even in the time of monarchy — and secondly, the Muslim Brotherhood which painted the hopes and fears of Egypt’s middle and lower-middle class in ideological colors,” writes Taheri in an article titled “Egypt is going the right way.”