Iran and Saudi Arabia fight over Bahrain
Arabic media review

Iran and Saudi Arabia fight over Bahrain

UN monitors in Syria said to be targeted for the first time; Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is left behind by absentee voters

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

Egyptian presidential candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh in Cairo (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Egyptian presidential candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh in Cairo (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)

Syria is back in the headlines of Arab newspapers Wednesday, following an explosion hitting a UN convoy in the province of Idlib.

“Syria: A massacre in the presence of monitors, and the Free Syrian Army says Hezbollah has entered the battlefield,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The article features a blurred video grab image of the damaged UN car with its hood open. Three UN cars carrying seven UN monitors were damaged near the town of Khan Sheikhoun, but no one was injured, A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports, based on opposition sources.

The daily reports the claim of a senior opposition officer, Colonel Qassem Saad A-Din, stating that the Iranian Shi’ite organization Hezbollah has sent 200 operatives to fight alongside Assad’s forces. Saad A-Din says the Hezbollah men have entered villages in the region of Qasir together with Syrian soldiers.

“The presence of monitors does not prevent the bombing of funeral-goers in Khan Shaikhoun,” reads the lead headline in the liberal daily Al-Hayat, based in London. The daily claims that an attack on protesters in the presence of the UN is a “first of its kind” in Syria.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an Arab-nationalist daily published in London, features an unusual editorial by Jordan’s Prince Hassan, who — as head of the Arab Thought Forum — calls for the convening of an urgent apolitical Arab conference to discuss alternative solutions for the Syrian crisis.

“Can we consider what is happening in Syria an exception to what took place in the countries that preceded it such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, despite the different conditions and methods?” asks Hassan. “This question should lead us to reevaluate what happened in previous movements and their far-reaching influence on our societies and the interests of our nation.”

“The need for an Arab role in Syria has become more urgent than ever before,” adds Hassan, noting that the Syrian issue concerns all Arabs despite the fact that the Syrians themselves are the main victims of the situation.

Iran worries Gulf Arabs

Iran continues to preoccupy the Arab news outlets on Wednesday thanks to its role in the politics of the Persian Gulf.

In an exclusive interview with A-Sharq Al-Awsat, Yemen’s foreign minister Abu-Bakr Al-Qirbi accuses Iran of interfering with Yemen’s internal matters. Al-Qirbi says that “instability [in Yemen] and attempts to sow social and sectarian strife… do not threaten only one country, but the entire region.”

Meanwhile, Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reports that the Iranian daily Kihan, which belongs to the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is calling on Iran to annex Bahrain in response to Arab intentions to form a Gulf Union incorporating six Arab states beginning with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The channel reports that Kihan describes Bahrain as part of Iran, interpreting the intention to form a Gulf Union as a counterbalance to Iran. Kihan described the unity of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain “a dangerous conspiracy.”

Al-Arabiya notes that Iranian calls for annexation of Bahrain are not new. The most notable proponent of the idea is Nateq Nouri, former parliament speaker and adviser to Khamenei.

Moussa and Abu-Fattouh lead absentee voting

Al-Quds Al-Arabi leads its front-page news with preliminary results of the Egyptian absentee vote. According to the daily, independent candidates Amr Moussa and Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh lead the race, with surprisingly few voters opting for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s establishment daily Al-Ahram reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has agreed to accept the transitional government of Kamal Ganzouri until June 30, when a new government will be appointed by the elected president.

Gamal Hishmat, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shoura Council and head of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, tells Al-Ahram that the Ganzouri government — which the parliament had demanded be sacked — cannot make decisions on expenditure or loans.

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi seems oddly optimistic in his prospects of victory Wednesday, promising the Egyptian public on the TV program “90 Minutes” that he would win the presidency on the first round of voting May 23 with over 60% of the votes, Egyptian independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reports.

Mursi sent a conciliatory message to Egypt’s Copts, saying they should enjoy full equality with Muslims, and that churches should be considered equal to mosques. Currently, severe legal and bureaucratic restrictions are placed on the the construction of new churches in Egypt.

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