Russia changes course on Syria
Arabic media review

Russia changes course on Syria

Egypt’s military challenges the parliament to draft a new constitution, and Turkey uses religion to buy Kurdish loyalty

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

An Egyptian protester carries the image of Mubarak and his aides in a Cairo protest (photo credit: AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
An Egyptian protester carries the image of Mubarak and his aides in a Cairo protest (photo credit: AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

A new Russian statement that is interpreted by the Arab press as withdrawing support from Syrian President Bashar Assad is making headlines on Wednesday, sending glimmers of hope for diplomatic movement on the Syrian front.

“Moscow: We do not insist that Assad remains; Riyadh: Change will serve its interests,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The daily reports that the Russian statement delivered by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov is an “important development,” adding Gatilov’s position that Syrians should be the ones who choose their president. The article displays a photo of a police vehicle overtaken by opposition rebels near the city of Aleppo.

In a separate front-page article, A-Sharq Al-Awsat surveys the favorable international reactions to the alleged Russian change of heart. It notes positive reactions to “Russian flexibility” from the United States, France, Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates.

London-based daily Al-Hayat focuses its coverage on a tacit threat delivered by Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faysal to Russia, saying that if it does not change its position on Syrian in the UN Security Council it stands to lose “the base of sympathy it previously gained in the Arab world.” Faysal lashed out at Russia in a press conference held in the Saudi coastal city of Jedda Tuesday on the sidelines of a Gulf meeting of foreign ministers.

Arab-nationalist daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi has a different take on the position of the two recalcitrant members of the Security Council, Russia and China. Its headline reads “Moscow and Beijing: no military intervention in Syria and no regime change by force.”

A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tareq Homayed regards the Saudi statement as the last nail in the coffin of the Annan initiative to solve the Syrian crisis diplomatically.

“It is clear from these important statements that there is almost a consensus surrounding the failure of Kofi Annan’s mission,” writes Homayed. “Only returning to the Security Council with Russian support, or abstention, could open many possibilities; either creating ‘safe zones’ under international supervision, or use of force against the dictator of Damascus.”

Egyptian showdown between military and parliament

A dispute between the Egyptian parliament and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the military council that currently rules Egypt, surrounding the drafting of the new constitution features high on Wednesday’s news.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that SCAF has set a 48-hour time frame for the political parties in Egypt to agree on criteria for a new constitutional assembly, or else it will reinstate the old constitution of 1971.

Political analyst Farag Ismail tells the Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya that if parliament does not agree on a new mechanism to draft the constitution, the military will issue a constitutional decree specifying the prerogatives of the president. Such a constitutional decree would contradict a previous decree, which states that it is the parliament, not the military, that is responsible for legislation.

“This is the true crisis that must be addressed, not the protests at Tahrir square,” says Ismail, calling the showdown between the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament and the military “a bone-breaking battle.”

Al-Hayat columnist Abdullah Iskandar attacks the intransigence of the Muslim Brotherhood following the Mubarak court ruling and the political crisis that ensued.

“When the Brotherhood rode the wave of Mubarak condemnation and adopted it, they not only took advantage of the general state of anger, but also defied the conditions of their involvement in the political game,” writes Iskandar. “When the ‘Brotherhood’ candidate refuses a presidential council — which would mean cooperating with losing candidates in the presidential race — this indicates his refusal to share power with others, not his respect for the political process.”

Turkey uses religion to co-opt Kurds

In a recent speech, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan referred to Turkey’s “one religion,” Islam, when talking about tension with the Kurds, Turkey’s largest ethnic minority.

Saudi-owned daily Elaph interviews Kurdish activists who say that the prime minister’s reference to religion was not a “slip of the tongue” as he put it, but rather a sophisticated way of garnering Kurdish support and curbing Kurdish national aspirations. Kurds have long demanded cultural and political autonomy within Turkey.


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