The freshly minted unity government between Kadima and Likud is met with criticism and widespread apprehension in the Arab press today.
In an article in the Saudi daily Al Akhbar, entitled “Long Live the King of Israel,” author Sabah Ayoub expresses confusion and uncertainty about the coalition. She writes that there are “no unified views on the impact of the alliance,” but acknowledges that the new government will “bestow political stability in Israel throughout the year.”
Most commentators agree that the decision asymmetrically benefits Benjamin Netanyahu over Shaul Mofaz. Mohammed Bader writes in Al Akhbar that the coalition will allow the prime minister to “relay a different kind of international message,” which will let him “exaggerate the range of his voice more than ever before.” Now that Netanyahu “speaks for nearly 80 percent of the population,” he can “speak for the sub-consensus of Israelis.”
On the other hand, Al Akhbar questions the impact that Mofaz will have: “Shaul Mofaz has still not convinced the Israeli public as to the extent of his seriousness, or even of his motives” (in teaming up with Netanyahu).
Looking forward to how this unity government will affect contested political issues, Mohammed Bader argues in his article “Towards an authoritarian regime” that Netanyahu will continue along his current political path on the question of a Palestinian state and a nuclear Iran: “The changes will not be radical.”
The debate about whether or not Israel will attack Iran is central in this discussion, as Bader and other pundits posit that Netanyahu will use his stronger leverage to “tighten the screws on Iran.” To substantiate his claims, Bader points out that in Israel’s history, “national unity governments came as a prelude to major benefits… security in particular.”
He also argues that Netanyahu will profit from the fact that “the strategic decision-making team in his government… includes three former chiefs of staff (Ehud Barak, Moshe Yaalon, and Shaul Mofaz).” This security trio, writes Bader, will convey an image of “confidence” and rationality that will combat the media’s “volatile image” of Netanyahu.
The Palestinian paper Al Quds covers the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the unity government and wonders how the decision will impact the peace process. In the article “What happens if we receive another hollow reply?” Al Quds mentions that Abbas wrote a letter to Netanyahu last week, immediately following the creation of the unity government, with “a call for the resumption of negotiation.” The author laments the fact that the rhetoric has not changed and “is the same…that has led us to our current situation.”
Another, slightly more optimistic piece in Al Quds argues that the unity government will be the real test of Netanyahu’s desire to create a Palestinian state. In an article entitled “Of Netanyahu and his opportunity!” the author says that now that the prime minister does not need to accommodate the most radical elements of his government, “The days and weeks ahead will show Secretary Clinton and the U.S. administration and the world if Netanyahu actually intended to progress towards peace, or if he will maintain his hard-line position.”
A new order in the Maghreb
The results of the Algerian parliamentary election are met with surprise and confusion in today’s Arabic media as, contrary to most estimates, the secular National Liberation Front party won the majority of seats.
Saudi based Al Arabiya describes the results as “puzzling” and looks to expert Dr. Abdullah Razzaghi for answers. One explanation given, rather vaguely, is that “they expected that the voter turnout would automatically be affected by what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt.”
Regarding accusations of fraud, there appears to be a consensus that indeed the elections were carried out fairly. Al Jazeera reports that “EU election monitors considered the organization of the elections to be satisfactory… The citizens were generally able to exercise a true vote.”
The news of the Algerian vote comes amid a wider debate surrounding the role of newly elected French President Hollande, and his impact on Franco-Maghrebi relations. The independent website Elaph reports that earlier this week the foreign minister of Morocco visited France, and expects “greater collaboration between the two countries and the two peoples.”
Additionally, Elaph reports positively on the potential for an improvement in French-Algerian relations, as Paris may look to “get closer to Algeria’s 200 billion dollars in reserve.” The article further points out that previous tensions between Moroccan King Mohammed VI and former French president Francois Mitterrand may be “defused” as a result of the new administration in Paris.
Battle of the camels
Liberal Egyptian newspaper Al Wafd reports today that the trial of the infamous “battle of the camels” is underway.
On February 1, 2011, hordes of hired camel riders rode through a protest in Tahrir Square, killing 11 people and injuring over 600.
The lawyer defending businessman Ibrahim Kamel called for the resignation of the judge of the Cairo Criminal Court, for “ignoring the evidence,” which was heard amid calls to “go away” emanating from the caged defendants.
Another defendant in the case, former minister of manpower Aisha Abdel Hady, reportedly fainted during the proceedings and was hospitalized.