Trouble in Damascus and elections in Algeria
Arabic media review

Trouble in Damascus and elections in Algeria

Legal ambiguity throws the Egyptian presidential campaign into disarray and Yemen is blaming Iran for funding Shiite separatists

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

Syrian firefighters extinguish a burning car following explosions in Damascus (photo credit: AP Photo/SANA)
Syrian firefighters extinguish a burning car following explosions in Damascus (photo credit: AP Photo/SANA)

Arab newspapers went to press before the explosions that occurred in Damascus on Thursday morning. Yet many papers are reporting a rise in attacks directed at the Syrian capital.

“Damascus boils; Obama: Syria threatens our security,” reads the headline of A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily published in London. The daily reports that Syrian tanks were deployed in the Barza neighborhood of Damascus, accompanied by a wide arrest campaign.

“Monitors targeted in Syria for the first time; Ban warns of the effect on their work,” read the headline of Al-Hayat, a liberal daily published in London, displaying an image of a tank serving as a military checkpoint at the entrance to Idlib. The daily reports of an explosion next to a convoy of monitors’ vehicles near the city of Daraa in southern Syria. The explosion took place in a military roadblock seconds after the UN convoy passed through it, injuring a number of Syria soldiers.

“The UN vehicles return to their headquarters in Damascus after escaping death in Daraa,” begins the TV reports in Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera. Opposition forces in Daraa denied targeting the observers, calling the attack “a fabricated play by the regime,” according to Al-Jazeera. The report also shows civilians in the city of Talbisah, near Homs, specifying government violations to the UN monitors.

Al-Jazeera reports that the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition force engaged in fighting Syrian government forces, is asking the international community to strike at “quality government targets” the way NATO did in Libya.

Meanwhile, Saudi-owned news website Elaph cites Israeli experts warning that instability in Syria may leak into the Golan Heights and affect Israel.

“Israeli officials have increasingly begun to demand toppling the regime of Bashar Assad, after refusing for months to discuss the fate of the regime, with which they have shared a ceasefire for a long time,” reads the report.

Legal ambiguity in Egypt as elections draw closer

Egypt is the second-largest story Thursday on the front pages of Arab dailies. Polls open Friday for absentee voting in the presidential elections, but legal difficulties may postpone the elections.

The confusion follows a decision by an administrative court in Egypt to suspend the elections, claiming the electoral commission overstepped its authority in setting the election date at May 23.

“Egypt: ruling threatens elections on the eve of first voting round,” reads the headline of Al-Hayat, featuring a photo of journalists protesting in Cairo against the arrest of a colleague, their mouths symbolically taped shut with black duct tape.

The court decision also casts doubt on the candidacy of Ahmad Shafiq, a former prime minister under Hosni Mubarak and now a presidential contender. A new law targeting members of the former regime would ban Shafiq from running, but an appeal to the Supreme Court allowed him to enter the race.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an Arab nationalist daily based in London, focuses on the ramifications of the legal brouhaha on Shafiq’s candidacy. In a press conference Thursday, Shafiq said that rumors of his removal from the presidential race were intended “to influence Egyptians voting abroad on Friday and convince them that I am not running.”

But on the editorial page, Shafiq’s candidacy is not even discussed. The lead editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi is titled “Egypt: Amr Moussa or Abu Al-Fatouh?” weighing the pros and cons of each of the two front-runners.

“Polls in Egypt always assert the lead of Amr Moussa over his opponent Abu-Fattouh, and barely mention other candidates like Ahmad Shafiq, Nuhammad Mursi or Muhammad Al-Awa. The supervising bodies in these polls are usually undocumented and mostly work in an arbitrary unscientific manner. They are unlike their counterparts in the West which are professional, for-profit organizations,” argues the editorial.

Yemen accuses Iran of funding Shiite separatists

A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Yemen has escalated its criticism of Iran, accusing the Islamic Republic of funding a conference of Houthi Yemeni separatists in Beirut. An unnamed Yemeni source tells the daily that the conference is held under the auspices of the Iranian Republican Guard and with the assistance of the local Shiite party Hizbullah. The Huthi separatists, fighting the central government in northern Yemen, are also Shiites.

Algerians vote Thursday, Islamists to win majority

The parliamentary elections in Algeria Thursday are receiving wide coverage in Arab news. Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reports that the “Algerian Spring parliament” will be voted for, predicting that Islamists will make substantial advances, similar to other post-revolution Arab countries. According to the news channel, 21 million Algerians are eligible to vote.

“The Islamic stream is Algeria faces an important test Thursday to its ability to repeat the victories achieved by its ‘brothers’ in neighboring countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco following the revolutions of the ‘Arab Spring,’ reports Al-Hayat, in an article titled “Algeria: The ‘Islamists’ Spring face test in today’s elections.” The daily reports that key Islamist figures are confident they will win a parliamentary majority, enabling them to form the government.


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