Prospects of Lebanese Civil War

Al Arabiya reports today that the “fate” of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria remained “ambiguous,” while Al Jazeera writes that “the regime of Assad is hampering the release of the pilgrims.” This latest escalation in the ongoing tensions between Lebanon and Syria sparks serious debate in the Arab press about the possibility of a civil war in Lebanon.

In an op-ed in the pan-Arabic Dar Al Hayat entitled “What’s behind the hill,” author Khaled Jamal argues that the regional proximity to the Syrian rebellion is causing the increase in violence in northern Lebanon. “The bloody conflict…seems to be continuing, growing, and changing forms, and goes beyond the local to regional levels. Tripoli’s northern border is adjacent to Homs and the countryside, and Latakia is around the hill, which flows with thousands of fugitives.” Jamal adds that, “The north Lebanese know the nature of the [Assad] regime and its cruelty in dealing with the rebellion.”

Another op-ed in Dar Al Hayat paints a brighter picture about the internal divide in Lebanon. Author Hazam al Ameen argues that the forces undermining stability in Lebanon are overstated, as “individuals will be the initiator of war [in Lebanon]…because Lebanese groups are not really political units or socially homogenous.”

This debate comes against a backdrop of shifting regional powers and alliances. Palestinian daily Al Quds al Arabi features an article today called “Iran is strengthening its presence in Lebanon as an alternative if the Assad regime falls.” The report points out that “Iran is ready to “spray” money on Lebanon…even during a time of economic hardship and international sanctions…which is clear evidence that they believe their ally Syria will fall.”  The article emphasizes the efficacy, potential impact, and depth of this strategy, saying the funding was going to “construction projects and building dams…cultural and economic links….financial support for Persian studies in universities…[and to] schools and hospitals.”

Hamdeen Sabahi Challenges Election Results

The initial shock of Egypt’s presidential elections has worn off, and the pressure is heating up for the third and fourth place candidates to contest the vote or endorse one of the new front runners. Hamdeen Sabahi’s announcement that he plans to challenge the election results and replace Ahmed Shafiq headlines many Arab papers today.

Liberal Egyptian newspaper Youm7 documents “dozens of protests by supporters of Sabahi…who are refusing to accept preliminary results of the election.” In light of his wide support, an article in Al Arabiya today refers to Sabahi as a “phenomenon” and a “miracle,” praising his “one of us” campaign slogan and noting that he will “make Egypt great again.”

Still, Youm7 views his chances of appealing the vote as negligible, writing “No truth to second rise of Sabahi…the results have not been resolved.” The article explains that indeed the notion of an effective challenge by the third place finisher was still only a rumor, as “there was no truth to any reports that the presidential election commission or any of its members…had said that Sabahi will enter the run-off.” Al Quds al Arabi covers Sabahi’s chance of replacing Shafiq in the runoff vote in June more favorably, saying “there are signs of hope that Sabahi will break through and compete with Shafiq.”

Still, other Arab papers seem to accept the outcome and see no legitimate contest by the losing candidate. Al Jazeera’s coverage today of the Egyptian elections does not mention Sabahi’s appeal, and instead leads with a feature piece entitled “Egyptian elections are not catastrophic.” Another article called “Will the Muslim Brotherhood save the Egyptian revolution?” looks ahead and treats the results as final.

Meanwhile, fourth place finisher Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh dispels claims that he now supports Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi. An article in Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya says “Abolfotoh…has asserted that he has not announced his support for any particular candidate yet.” The article further stresses the present ambiguity and distant stance of Abolfotoh, quoting him saying “I will now begin my dialogue and meetings with all national forces, in order to combine the efforts to confront the corrupt regime.”

Salafists Attack Police Headquarters in Tunisia

Palestinian daily Al Quds reports today that about “200 Salafists…protested the arrest of 4 Salafists,” by “burning a police station in the north-west Tunisian city of Jendouba.” The attack occurs amid growing tensions between the Salafist movement and the government, as the paper quotes a government official saying “we will not allow the establishment of a state within a state.”

Al Arabiya reports that the mob also attacked “a tourist hotel, bars, and restaurants serving alcohol,” adding that this attack comes as a “warning of deteriorating internal conditions” in Tunisia.

Too much TV

“Bahrain to stop broadcasting because of excess of Iranian channels” reads the headline of an article in Al Arabiya today. The Bahraini Information Affairs Authority (IAA) announced that it would cease using the Arabsat satellite network, which it claims is featuring an “excess of Iranian channels.”

The agency’s list of grievances includes Arabsat’s “failure to stop abuses and hostility by Iranian channels…which are inciting sectarianism, violence, hatred, terrorism, and spreading lies and abuses against leaders and the political community in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.” The article also alleges that the Iranian programs were attempting to challenge the “historic ties” of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.