Assad, fighter of terror
Arabic media review

Assad, fighter of terror

After all else has failed, the Syrian president is successfully marketing himself as an ally of the West in its war against extremism

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

Syrian President Bashar Assad (photo credit: AP/SANA)
Syrian President Bashar Assad (photo credit: AP/SANA)

Statements by UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi during his visit to Damascus lead the front pages of Arabic newspapers on Tuesday, expressing a general sense of dismay among the ranks of the opposition at positions that seem too pro-Assad.

“Brahimi: Assad will play a role in the transitional stage without leading it himself,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, featuring an image of opposition fighters guarding a medicine factory they captured outside Damascus yesterday.

While Brahimi’s visit is pivotal in determining the feasibility of a diplomatic conference on Syria next month, “indications from the Syrian capital do not so far show readiness by the regime to forgo power in favor of a transitional government,” reads the article.

Featuring an archival photo of Brahimi warmly shaking hands with Assad, Saudi news channel Elaph quotes the UN envoy as saying the president’s supporters view his candidacy for another term in 2014 “a fait accompli.”

Meanwhile, Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat expresses the dismay of the opposition regarding Brahimi’s statements, reflecting the discomfort of the Saudi regime with the conciliatory tone of the UN envoy.

“The opposition’s Syrian National Council demands to fire Brahimi,” reads the daily’s headline, featuring a photo of Brahimi walking alongside Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in Damascus Monday.

The Syrian opposition has “escalated” its position against Brahimi, claims the article, reporting that it is asking the Arab League to remove him from his post due to “general displeasure with his statements and positions.”

Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera writes on its website that it is unclear whether Brahimi met Assad during his trip to Damascus. The previous stop on Brahimi’s trip was Iran, where the UN envoy said that Iran’s participation in Geneva II was “essential,” raising the ire of the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition remains divided on Geneva II, scheduled for November 23, though its members insist on comprehensive regime change preceding Assad’s departure, claims the channel.

Bashar and his war on terrorism

Two op-eds concerning Assad’s supposed “war on terror” appear in Arab media on Tuesday.

Yasser Zaatra of Al-Jazeera writes that Assad is no longer concerned about his ouster in the near future, since he realizes that “no one will threaten him for a year at least, and perhaps more, which is the time Tel Aviv requires to ascertain his disposal of chemical weapons.”

For Israel and its allies, writes Zaatra, “an exhausted and weak Bashar — ruling a destroyed country plagued by divisions — is a thousand times better than any alternative. However, creating a ‘moderate’ regime by Arab standards capable of controlling the country is also considered good. Here begin Bashar’s fears,” he writes.

“To dispel these fears, Assad proposes a new and important mission to the Zionist entity and the West … he will wage a battle to uproot the jihadists who are spreading in Syria and threatening Iraq as well as other allies of the regime in the region.”

“[Assad] is presenting himself as the spearhead of the confrontation with these forces, a presentation which will likely be adopted by the West and Israel.” 

Al-Hayat columnist Hazem Saghiyeh diagnoses the same tendency by Assad to use the “anti-terrorism” card when dealing with the West, claiming he is doing so after his other marketing ploys fell on their face.

“The theory of [Assad as] defending ‘Arabism’ seemed flimsy and foolish from the start … even more shaky and silly was the theory of defending ‘true Islam,’ an argument that died the moment it was born. The theory of confronting Israel, rather than save the regime, harmed the credibility of its ally Hezbollah, the organization which began searching for Israel’s specter on the streets of Homs and Qusair,” writes Saghiyeh.

“Indeed, the theory of ‘fighting terror,’ unlike the others, is lucrative; as local and Western observers have noticed. It builds one bridge between the Syrian regime and between Western public opinion, and another — placing Syria on the Russian-American crossroads,” he adds.

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