Syria cries while Yemen smiles
Arabic media review

Syria cries while Yemen smiles

A strange telephone call between two leaders' wives is revealed; Yemen's Saleh officially steps down; and a new war may erupt in Sudan

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

An army tank destroyed by the opposition in Idlib (photo credit: Ugarit News)
An army tank destroyed by the opposition in Idlib (photo credit: Ugarit News)

A number of young men stand and burn a poster of Bashar Assad in the Syrian city of Idlib as his effigy hangs from a noose in the background. This is the photo with which Saudi daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily published in London, illustrates its headline: “A new massacre in Syria, and Saudi Arabia warns the indifferent.” The daily stresses Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in supporting the Syrian people, accusing other states of indifference to their plight. The daily also mentions the new Qatari position in favor of arming the Syria opposition.

The daily reports that Iraq, which will soon host the Arab summit, has invited neither the government nor the opposition in Syria to take part in the event.

Al-Hayat, a liberal daily published in London, dedicates its top headline to Yemen rather than Syria. Its Syria report is titled “Pressure besieges the Syrian regime and reports of a massacre in Homs.” The story features a photo of a small family fleeing its home in Idlib; the father carrying a makeshift sack of clothes on his back, a son carrying a pot. Al-Hayat begins with reporting the results of the constitutional referendum held on Sunday in which the government received 89 percent of the vote.

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based news station, begins its reports with clashes on the ground, as per its custom during the last few weeks. The station tells of 66 deaths in the cities of Homs, Idlib and Aleppo. It also quotes the head of the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition group, as saying that Assad’s forces have suffered “heavy losses in life and equipment” during clashes with his army in the outskirts of Damascus.

Meanwhile, hard-line daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports a strange telephone conversation between the wives of two leaders, Queen Rania of Jordan and Asma Assad of Syria. Rania reportedly called Asma to ask about the situation in Syria, only to hear Asma reply that in Syria things were fine but that worrying reports were emanating from Jordan. Asma then turned the tables on Rania and asked her how they were faring in Jordan.

Basam Badarin of Al-Quds Al-Arabi writes that this bizarre exchange reflects “the coldness of the political relations between the sides and the heat of apprehension and mutual suspicion.”

Saleh bids Yemen farewell

The powerful image of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh handing over a folded Yemeni flag to his successor Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Monday is making major headlines in the Arab press. A-Sharq Al-Awsat remarks that the ceremonial act “is not mentioned in Yemeni law.”

The idea of an Arab leader abdicating power of his own free will (albeit after months of protests and international pressure) is so unusual that Al-Hayat dedicates its lead headline to it.

“The handing over and receiving was conducted in a ceremony  unprecedented in the Arab world since the beginning of the third millennium and the start of the Arab Spring,” writes Al-Hayat.

The daily reports that it is not yet known whether Saleh will remain in Yemen or relocate to Ethiopia, as was rumored.

North and South Sudan may head to war

Al-Jazeera reports that the likelihood of war between Sudan and its new southern neighbor South Sudan has become imminent.

“It seems that the differences between the states have no solution and the will of some leaders to go to war has become more urgent than any time before,” writes reporter Imad Abd Al-Hadi in Khartoum.

The two countries signed a peace memorandum only a few days ago, but South Sudan accuses the north of breaching it. Mutual complaints of breach of sovereignty were submitted to the UN and the African Union, but security expert Hasan Bayoumi, interviewed by Al-Jazeera, doubts the two sides will actually engage in armed conflict, which he says would be “catastrophic for both states.”

Gaza plight troubles Al-Jazeera

Al-Jazeera columnist Fahmi Huweidi laments the repeated power shortages in Gaza in an editorial titled “Stop our shame in Gaza.”

“Egyptian gas is being given to Israel for a symbolic price so that the Israelis will enjoy warmth and light, while the residents of Gaza live in the dark and shiver from the cold,” writes Huweidi. He is particularly troubled by the fact that although the Hamas government in Gaza would like to receive its gas directly from Egypt, the Egyptian government insists on transferring it through the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel. Thus, Israel has become a mediator between Egypt and the government in Gaza.

Huweidi writes that “this is no coincidence,” adding that he knows of four countries that are willing to pay for the transfer of gas from Egypt directly to Gaza: Algeria, Libya, Turkey and Iran.

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