Assad, and Putin, blamed for raging Syrian violence

Assad, and Putin, blamed for raging Syrian violence

Amir Taheri says Russia is on the wrong side of history

A-Sharq Al-Awsat's Feb. 11 front page
A-Sharq Al-Awsat's Feb. 11 front page

The pan-Arab Saudi publication A-Sharq Al-Awsat leads its Saturday front page with reports of the clashes in Syria and the heavy toll that they take on civilian life in both urban and rural areas. The publication reports of “a blood bath in the city of Homs that led to the death of 60 civilians at the hands of security forces.” The paper then goes on to cover the recent wave of protests, that not only targeted the Syrian military but incorporated Russia as well following its veto in the UN Security Council: “Syrian dissenters took to the streets on Saturday with such cries as ‘Russia is killing our children.’”

This type of reporting, in which Assad’s security forces are held responsible for the bloody clashes, is increasingly becoming the norm within the Arab world.

The domestic Syrian publications, however, don’t quite see the situation as such. The government-sponsored paper Al-Ba’ath does report of civilian casualties, but in its eyes, culpability lies elsewhere: “Armed terrorists launched an attack that led to the death of 28 civilian in Halab today.” The paper then goes on to hint at the affiliation of the armed terrorists: “After receiving funding from several countries in the area, the terrorists were able to get their hands on the ammunition for the attack.”

The paper ends its coverage with a press release from the Syrian Department of the Interior which followed a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint: “The explosives that were found on the suicide bomber clearly link him with foreign terrorist organizations.” The release goes on to lay out the department’s commitment to combat such actions: “The security forces will continue to hunt down any terrorist that will place civilian lives in jeopardy.” Although the paper doesn’t implicate a specific country, the insinuation clearly targets the more western-oriented countries in the region.

Disagreements within the Egyptian public about the merits of a general strike

The Saturday edition of Al-Ahram, Egypt’s leading publication, opens with an article about the public’s multifarious reactions to the concept of a national strike. The paper leads with coverage of the dissenters: from the business sector — “The National Workers’ Union came out against the strike.” And from the political realm — “Members of the Muslim Brotherhood made a point during Friday’s prayer service at the mosques to come out against the national strike, warning that ‘it does more harm than good to Egypt.’”

The paper then segues to coverage of the initiators of the strike: “The National Union of Freelance Workers as well as the teen sub-groups of the revolutionaries have joined-in in support of the national strike.” Following immediately with the strikers’ rationale: “A spokesperson on behalf of the protesters explained that ‘the strike is a legitimate and peaceful method to bring forth the revolutionary goals and put pressure on the military government to step down.’

Despite the paper’s recent staunch support of the protesters, in its coverage of the strike once can now detect an air of ambivalence. There is still great sympathy for the cause of the protesters as usual, but alongside it, there is clearly a discernible amount of concern and uncertainty about the efficacy or desirability of a national strike.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat analyzes the Russian veto

Most of the opinion pieces in Saturday’s A-Sharq Al-Awsat attempt to offer analysis of the two vetoes in the Security Council.

Amir Taheri, an Iranian-born columnist, puts forth a scathing allegation against Putin, pegging his veto as “politically-driven” and his support of Assad as “being on the wrong side of history yet again.” Taheri explains that “Putin is facing elections, and in order to secure support from the two leading Russian parties, the best bet is to put himself on the opposite side of the West.”

He describes Putin’s need to protect Russian interests in the region: “Not only is Russia’s naval base in Tartus one of the last ones left in the region, but Syria is also one of Russia’s biggest arms buyers in the Mid-East.”

Taheri puts Putin on the wrong side of public opinion as well as history: “Ever since the veto, Putin’s opinion polls in the Arab world have plummeted.” And “Just like Putin was wrong to see such leaders as Milosevic and Ghaddafi to the end, he is also wrong in his support of President Assad.”

Al-Quds photographer receives journalistic award

The East-Jerusalem publication Al-Quds reports Saturday on its own photo-journalist Mahmoud Aliyan’s winning the prestigious Thomson Award for investigative journalism. The photographer received the award for his successful representation of “Palestinian conditions in the checkpoints, as seen in his photograph Confrontation, which depicts an up-close-and-personal standoff between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian teen.”

Ironically, the paper reports, “Aliyan was unable to physically come to receive the award as he was not granted a travel permit by Israeli authorities.”

Poll on the best course of action in Syria

In a public opinion poll taken by Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab, Qatari-based news network and online publication, people were asked what is the best course of action in Syria in order to stop the violence. The results: 74% call for military intervention; 18.2% suggest diplomatic efforts and negotiations; 7.8% opt for more sanctions.

This poll highlights the sense of urgency in the Arab world to bring a quick end to the violence, as opposed to waiting out the course of the tumult, as seemed to be the case with the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.

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