In the Mideast the Sky is Falling, or Maybe Not: World View

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By Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad

With violence and unrest worsening this past week across a number of Middle Eastern states, a number of commentators coalesced around one point, in particular: things are probably going to get worse for just about everyone before they get better.

Here's Jihad el-Khazen, a columnist with the  London-based, Saudi-owned Al-Hayat: “I found not a single news story that Arabs or Muslims might see in a positive light.”

Dr. Fatima al-Samadi in the Jordanian daily Al-Arab al-Yawm put it another way: "The Arab Spring is a bloody one," she wrote. “And while it constitutes a predicament for the Arab regimes, it also constitutes a predicament for everyone else,” meaning those who have fought for freedom for decades.

Al-Samadi hammered away at the militant Lebanese  Shiite movement Hezbollah, which finds itself in a tight spot rhetorically and strategically over the growing body count in Syria, its ally. “Those who supported Hezbollah’s positions and its honorable confrontation against the Zionist enemy will have no trouble opposing its position toward the Syrian revolution. They will not see their patriotism or hostile position toward Israel undermined for supporting people who are being subjected to the use of oppression, weapons and killings in Syria."

Unlike Hezbollah, the militant Palestinian movement Hamas has stayed away from the Syria debate. Even so, the Gaza-based Filastin al-An, which is affiliated with Hamas,  saw fit to carry a piece harshly critical of the  Syrian regime.

“There is a joke that is constantly reiterated by the geniuses of the  regime,” wrote columnist Yasser al-Zaatra. “It suggests that those who want to protest must file a request with the Ministry of Interior and that they must not take to the streets in a chaotic manner – as if they are speaking about Switzerland rather than Syria.” Given the chance, al-Zaatra continued, the regime “will devour the protestors in the streets with its hands and teeth." Syria's silent majority, he went on, is “nothing but a terrified majority.”

The story in Yemen had its share of terror, too. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded in a weekend rocket attack and transported to Saudi Arabia for treatment. Civil war seemed imminent. “The outcome of the events in Yemen was expected,” said the Saudi-based daily Al-Watan – a publication that is seen to reflect the monarchy’s point of view. “All the information pointed to the fact that the crisis was becoming increasingly distant from a political solution, especially after the Yemeni president refused to sign the agreement” brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council calling for a transition of power.

The editorial noted that Yemen's young people seem to have left the scene, taking with them a more peaceful protest spirit:

“The revolution is turning into a series of coups undertaken by leaders who always dreamed of assuming power. The recent developments and reports regarding the injuring of the Yemeni president and a number of senior officials mean that the confrontations are now heading in the direction of targeting individuals to topple the regime and to jump into the presidential seat, thereby divesting the Yemeni revolution of its original goals.”

The volatility has been compounded by the fact that some people close to the Yemeni president say he will return to Yemen to resume the presidency as soon as he is well enough.

This would be a mistake, wrote the London-based, Palestinian-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi.  It would be better for Saleh to use “this unfortunate assassination attempt” and his transfer to Saudi Arabia “to remain abroad, complete his treatment and consider this to be a natural or forcible relinquishing of power.” If he doesn't,  “Yemen could drown for years.”

Commentators weren't universally dispirited. Regime-friendly news organizations in Syria and Bahrain conveyed the impression that, actually, everything was returning to normal.  “The dust of the crisis has dissipated” in Syria,  proclaimed an editorial by Ezzeddin Darwich in the Syrian state-controlled Tishreen daily.

Ignoring the on-going protests and deaths, which reached previously unseen levels this past weekend, the author wrote that what is important now “is the fact that Syria overcame the crisis,” and that the current talk about tensions had no real ramifications.

“And for the record,” he added, “we must say that the Syrian people are the ones who thwarted this crisis and all that it meant in terms of strife and premeditated organized crime.”

Not to be outdone, Adel al-Toraifi, the editor-in-chief of the regionally focused Al Majalla magazine, asserted that Bahrain, too, “has experienced an unprecedented political crisis, and it has now overcome the worst of it.”

Writing in the Saudi-owned, London-based Asharq al-Awsat, al-Toraifi added that, “a very minor group wanted to capitalize on the situation and involve Bahrain in a larger regional conflict, but the attempt was foiled and ultimately contained,” despite “Iran's propaganda and the West's misunderstanding.”

“Today, we are placing a large bet on Bahrain,” the author wrote, ignoring the on-going, though scattered, protests as well as the continuing effects of the severe crackdown by the state and its allies, notably Saudi Arabia, which maintains troops in the country.

“The achievement of any sincere and judicious reconciliation is bound to lay foundations for a successful civil state, which would serve as a model to all others seeking reform and development in their own countries.”

The state-owned Al-Ahram in Egypt was more subtle. “We must not be concerned about the severe disputes and the loud debates that have recently taken place concerning the political reforms and the future of power in Egypt," the paper wrote.  "This phenomenon is a natural one all over the world when dictatorial regimes are changed and following the popular revolutions that thrust countries into a completely different atmosphere.”

According to the daily, which backed President Hosni Mubarak until the day he was forced from office, a “little bit” of patience will ensure that “the concealed steam will gradually filter out, and dialogue will flow back to its desired and natural level.”

So readers had their pick of views this week: the more pointed commentators tended to paint a tumultuous near term while those close to regimes suggested everything was working out fine.

(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)

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-0- Jun/09/2011 17:01 GMT