A historic meeting will take place Monday in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council — a political and economic framework encompassing six Arab Gulf states — will discuss moving from a model of “cooperation” to a full-fledged political union, potentially turning the Gulf into “the Gulf Union.”
“Gulf summit initiates ‘union’ by announcing the intention of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait to unite,” reads the headline of liberal London-based daily Al-Hayat. The article features the photo of smiling Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faysal during a similar meeting.
A Gulf official tells Al-Hayat that Monday’s meeting will produce a declaration of principles uniting Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, but expected that Kuwait will join the initiative, with the United Arab Emirates and Oman following suit.
“Riyadh conference to discuss a Gulf union composed of three powers,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The daily explains that the proposed union will create three powers — legislative, executive and judiciary — “that will not intervene in the sovereignty of the six member countries,” without explaining what exactly that means. The daily adds that the idea is modeled after the European Union.
Abd Al-Aziz Awishaq, a member of the preparatory committee for the union, tells A-Sharq Al-Awsat that his committee did not discuss the exact political title of the union — whether federal or confederate — but did reach a final outline of the union’s bodies and mechanisms.
Tareq Homayed, editor of A-Sharq Al-Awsat, complains in Monday’s editorial, titled “The Gulf Union and the hesitators,” about the lack of clarity in the political debate surrounding the Gulf union.
“There are two things I don’t understand at all, namely: why don’t the Gulf countries that are anxious to unite explain their reasoning, and why don’t the opponents explain their reasons, too? Both sides are silent, while a cultural and media debate unfolds. It is possible that the debate reflects the opinions of the supporters and opponents, but we have yet to hear clear analysis!”
Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an Arab-nationalist daily printed in London, welcomes the Gulf summit as a harbinger of Arab political unity.
“The meeting will be different from all previous routine meetings, convened for photo opportunities and exchange of compliments,” writes the editor. “No doubt, unity between two Arab countries is welcome, on condition that it is done with the consent of the two peoples and through a national referendum. Otherwise it is a forced merger, leading to significant complications in the future.”
Syrian violence spills into Lebanon
Syria continues to feature high on the front pages of the Arab world’s main newspapers Monday.
A-Sharq Al-Awsat summarizes one month of “ceasefire” in Syria by reporting that the death toll in the country has reached 900 victims a month, including 600 civilians, the opposition reports. The daily adds that armed clashes between Sunni Muslims and Allawites have reached the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. A photo displays men in civilian clothes firing AK-47s from behind a haphazard barrier of car tires.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that four Lebanese were killed in the armed clashes, while Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera reports that the Lebanese army has deployed in Tripoli to guarantee calm in the city.
Meanwhile, Al-Hayat reports that the Syrian army has intensified its crackdown on opposition elements in the surroundings of Hama. Government forces entered villages Sunday, burning nearly fifty percent of the homes and killing dozens, opposition forces tell the daily. A photo depicts two elderly women mourning next to the body of Ahmad Moussa, a young man killed near Homs.
Egypt’s presidential campaign goes negative
Egypt’s administrative court delivered a final ruling Sunday stating that presidential elections will proceed as planned, on the original dates of May 23 and 24.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that the Muslim Brotherhood fears collapse if it wins the elections and has intensified its religious rhetoric in an attempt to draw ultra-conservative Salafist voters. The daily also reports that independent Islamist candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh has decided to focus his critique on Israel and the United States, calling the former “racist” and accusing the latter of employing “state terrorism” by killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden.
Al-Hayat columnist Muhammad Salah notes that Egypt’s presidential campaign has quickly deteriorated into a campaign of character assassination.
“Followers of social media websites will not find enough time to observe the photos and correspondence claiming that this or that candidate is a ‘criminal’ and that those who vote for him are committing a crime!”