Syria is back in the top headlines of the Arab press Sunday, with international pressure on the country’s opposition to unite as new Syrian National Council (SNC) leader George Sabra takes office.
“Blood in Syria and pressure in Doha on the opposition to ‘fill the void,’” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat Monday.
A senior opposition leader tells the daily that significant international pressure is currently being exerted on the opposition’s Syrian National Council and its new leader to accept an initiative to unite all opposition forces under one command. But the source says that Sabra adamantly opposes the initiative, considering it an attempt to thwart the revolution.
The source said $900 million belonging to the regime is currently being held in Qatar and will be given to the opposition in installments.
London-based daily Al-Hayat seems less pessimistic about the prospects of the opposition uniting. The daily interviews Sabra, a Christian, who considers his victory proof that sectarianism doesn’t exist in Syria. Regarding opposition unification, Sabra tells Al-Hayat that he supports it, but not too soon.
“We are seriously studying all initiatives because the opposition’s unity is a Syrian requirement before anything else,” Sabra says. “But in light of our experience in the SNC we want the opposition unity plan to take root on solid ground so that it lasts. Hurrying may lead to negative results.”
In the interview, Sabra also calls on the international community to supply weapons to the opposition.
‘The task of uniting the opposition factions may be more difficult than toppling the regime in Damascus, as most participants believe they are more worthy and better qualified to rule than their peers’
Al-Jazeera closely follows the ongoing opposition negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha. The channel optimistically reports “preliminary agreement on a unified opposition entity,” noting that the SNC may be more flexible in negotiations, realizing that its popularity is in decline.
Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi says that the opposition’s hyperactivity can only indicate one of two outcomes: either preparation to topple Assad through military force or preparation to negotiate with him and reach a political settlement.
“The task of uniting the opposition factions may be more difficult than toppling the regime in Damascus, as most participants believe they are more worthy and better qualified to rule than their peers,” writes Atwan.
A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tareq Homayed highlights the fact that the new SNC leader is Christian.
“Say what you will about the Syrian opposition and even about Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, but they managed to elect a Christian leader for the opposition… one may say that this would not have happened if it were not for regional, Arab and intentional intensive efforts in Doha, and this is true. This is exactly what we’ve been saying since the eruption of the Syrian revolution.”
Iraqi weapons deal gone sour
A mega arms deal signed between Iraq and Russia worth $4.2 billion is in question, and may cost senior Iraqi security officials their jobs.
“The ‘suspicious’ Russian arms deal may depose officials close to Maliki,” reads the headline of Al-Hayat.
An adviser to Prime Minister Maliki, Ali Mousawi, told Al-Hayat that corruption accompanied the deal signed with Russia, forcing the prime minister to cancel it.
But government sources said that officials close to Maliki received paybacks worth as much as $200 million in return for Iraq buying MiG-29 fighter jets and 30 attack helicopters.
‘The “suspicious” Russian arms deal may depose officials close to Maliki,’ reads the headline of Al-Hayat
But A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports on conflicting statements emanating from Baghdad regarding the deal’s cancellation; as Iraqi defense minister Saadoun Dalimi denied the deal was annulled.
Meanwhile, the Dubai-based news station Al-Arabiya reports demonstrations in southern Iraq following a government decision to cancel food subsidies.
The food rations were given to citizens directly by government as part of the “Oil-for-Food” scheme reached between Saddam Hussein and the UN following the First Gulf War.
Ali Mousawi, Maliki’s adviser, told A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the protests are nothing but “political noise” orchestrated “in an attempt to embarrass the government and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki personally.”