‘Where shall we run from dictatorship?’
Arabic media review

‘Where shall we run from dictatorship?’

Columnists bemoan Arab weakness, hypocrisy in the face of Syrian violence

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

Female student protesters hold a poster of Obama with an Assad mask in Idlib, Syria (photo credit: Shaam News)
Female student protesters hold a poster of Obama with an Assad mask in Idlib, Syria (photo credit: Shaam News)

Conflicting reports mark the Arab news coverage of Syria on Thursday. Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based news channel, displays tanks rolling through the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs. Forgoing any semblance of objective reporting, the narrator praises the “steadfastness and resolve” of the “revolutionaries of freedom and honor” in the face of Assad’s superior troops.

Hadi Abdullah, a spokesman for the opposition group Syrian Revolution General Commission, tells Al-Jazeera that Assad’s 4th division which entered Homs is using civilians as “human shields.”

On Wednesday the Syrian government announced that the army had entered Homs to “purify” it from pockets of resistance, but opposition activists denied that the army had massively entered the city, liberal London-based daily Al-Hayat reports.

“Homs is all under Assad fire,” reads the headline of A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily published in London. The article reports that the city is being bombarded by heavy artillery fire and that Assad’s tanks attempted to storm the city but were repelled by the opposition Free Syrian Army, which battled government forces on four fronts late Wednesday night. The photo displays members of the Free Syrian Army in Homs, one of them carrying a heavy machine gun.

For many Arab columnists, a mood of desperation prevails. Comparing Syria to Iraq and Libya, Al-Hayat columnist Zoheir Quseibati sadly remarks, “The dictator has died, but hope of freedom and stability is still far away. The dictatorship has died, but security is still hostage to militias.”

“Where shall we run from dictatorship?” asks Al-Hayat columnist Thuraya Shahry, arguing that dictatorship is often a self-imposed infliction. “The world around us has been divided into victims and victimizers. But is the tragic element in our lives psychological in nature? In other words: Are we realistically being wronged when we feel wronged?”

But no one surpasses A-Sharq Al-Awsat’s editor Tariq Humeid in his Thursday editorial, titled “Let’s compare Assad to Israel.”

Humeid bemoans the weak Arab response to Assad’s atrocities in comparison with the Arab reaction to Israel’s recent wars waged against Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

“It is as if we say: ‘If an Arab does the killing, we can accept it; but if it’s an Israeli, we must all rise as one!’ It is sad and shameful that someone like Hassan Nasrallah should come out and shamelessly defend Assad!”

“If we compare the Assad regime to Israel,” continues Humeid, “we will discover the extent of hypocrisy in our region and one of its main sources is the Assad regime, father and son, which lived on the lie of resistance.”

Egypt lets American people go

News that Egypt has lifted a travel ban on Americans accused of illicit funding of local NGOs is being widely reported in the Arab press Thursday. A-Sharq Al-Awsat claims the move was a response to significant American pressure placed on Egypt, noting that “it will likely defuse the crisis between Egypt and the United States.” The judges in the case resigned after arguing that pressure was placed on them to close the case.

Egyptian establishment daily Al-Ahram reports on Thursday that Egyptian politicians and members of civil society are demanding that the exact reasons for the judges’ resignation be revealed.

Meanwhile, independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm interviews the lawyer of one of the defendants, who says that some of the suspects were released on bail estimated at 2 million Egyptian pounds, or US $330,000.

Meanwhile, the announcement of May 23 and 24 as the dates for Egypt’s presidential elections has Egyptian columnists speculating about the identity of the next president.

Russia, Israel and the Iranian codes

Wikileaks reports that Russia divulged Iran’s air defense codes to Israel are making front page news in many Arab publications Thursday. Both A-Sharq Al-Awsat and Al-Quds Al-Arabi report on their front pages that Israel exposed the codes for drones it sold Georgia in return for the information. The reports are both based on an article in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth published Wednesday, based on the Wikileaks exposure of the correspondence of the American company Stratfor.

Will Hamas leaders relocate to Gaza or to Cairo?

Hamas should open an office in Cairo, says Muhammad Mursi, the head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party, Freedom and Justice, in an interview with Al-Ahram Wednesday. Speculation regarding the new location of Hamas’ political headquarters has increased in the last few days following reports that Hamas has finally abandoned the Syrian capital of Damascus. But Mahmoud A-Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, says the best place for Hamas’s top brass is the Gaza Strip. In an interview with pro-Hamas daily Falastin Wednesday, A-Zahar said that Gaza offers an open political ambiance and freedom of movement.

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