Old Friends Prove Not So Close in the New Arab World: World View

By Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad


June 13 (Bloomberg) -- Much of the commentary in the Arabic media in recent
days has focused on the realignments taking place across the Middle East as a
result of the various Arab uprisings.


Ammar Nehmeh, an occasional columnist at the Beirut-based leftist daily
As-Safir, wrote that forces that traditionally resist U.S. policy in the
region, and that initially supported the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt,
Bahrain and Yemen, now find themselves on a collision course with the Muslim
Brotherhood, the vast Islamic movement , which is trying to steer events
according to its own beliefs and interests. In practical terms, Nehmeh wrote,
this means that the Lebanese political party and military group Hezbollah, for
example, is now discovering that its long honeymoon with the Brothers
everywhere is ending.


  In spite of their different circumstances, the party and the Brothers have
  belonged, for around three decades, to a common project that confronted the
  projects of Western hegemony in the region. Hezbollah had been involved in a
  direct confrontation with Israel and the West and their tools in Lebanon,
  while the primary objective of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in several
  Arab countries was to confront the ruling regimes in order to take over


But with the fall of some key pro-Western dictators, the Sunni Muslim
Brotherhood’s antagonism towards non-Arab, Shiite Iran and its primary patron,
Shiite Hezbollah, has grown more pronounced. So has the Brotherhood's
criticism of the Syrian regime, which is dominated by the Alawite religious
minority. The unrest in Syria has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone.


Ibrahim Amine, editor of the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar, wrote that the Muslim
Brothers are entering a trap that threatens the foundations of the wider
struggle against Israel. The Brothers are “about to witness unprecedented
divisions because of the opportunistic direction they are following all over
the Arab world, and that they want to propagate in Palestine,” he wrote. He
was referring to the decision by Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the
Brothers, to enter into a coalition with its longstanding rival for favor
among the Palestinians, the secular, more moderate movement Fatah.
Disapprovingly, he wrote that there is simply no “passageway but the


On a larger scale, Nehmeh wrote, two major Sunni states, Turkey and Saudi
Arabia, have begun a political rapprochement that could serve as the anchor
for a new axis in the post-revolutionary period. Ali Ibrahim, deputy editor of
the Saudi-owned, monarchy-friendly Asharq al-Awsat, which is based in London,
wrote approvingly of this development. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, he said, "are
currently playing important roles by advising and offering initiatives to
avoid total chaos so the regional ship does not crash."


Ibrahim noted that Saudi Arabia received the president of Yemen after he was
wounded in an attack on his compound. He said that the country is working
benignly to end the crisis in Yemen, as it is in other countries.


Turkey, meanwhile, is increasingly involved in Syrian affairs, Ibrahim wrote.


"The Turkish stance evolved with the development of events in Syria," he said,
from advising the Syrian regime to accelerate reforms, to admonishing it for
continuing to kill demonstrators. "Now Turkey is hosting the first conference
of the Syrian opposition," he noted approvingly.


  Like Saudi Arabia in the case of Yemen, Ankara can do no more than provide
  advice, ideas and initiatives during the period of protest. But were a
  transition period to become a reality, then they would both have a more
  active role in political and economic assistance, and could facilitate a
  safe transition to stability.


Abedl-Beri Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based, Palestinian-owned
Al-Quds al-Arabi, wrote that Israel was sowing trouble in Egypt because the
Egyptian revolution had "redrafted relations with the Israeli occupier." The
provisional government in Egypt is taking a harder line on relations with
Israel than the previous government of President Hosni Mubarak. Atwan pointed
to the case of an alleged Israeli spy recently arrested in Egypt for planning
attacks on churches to trigger sectarian conflicts between Egyptian Christians
and Muslims.


When it came to an issue unambiguously involving Israel -- the killing of
Palestinian and Syrian protestors along the border of the occupied Golan
Heights by Israeli forces -- several commentators in the Arabic media focused
their attention on the Syrian regime’s culpability. They were angry over the
apparent inability of the Syrian army to protect the protestors even as they
allowed them to approach Israeli military lines.


Randa Haydar wrote in the Beirut-based An-Nahar, which is regularly critical
of the Syrian regime, that the Palestinians and Syrians who participated in
the demonstration were victims of three parties:


  The Syrian regime, which is trying to play the game of rocking the borders
  with Israel through them; the Palestinian factions that want to give
  themselves credit for confronting the enemy and offering free services to
  the Syrian regime; and of course Israel, which is trying to disfigure the
  image of their peaceful movement in order to justify its excessive use of
  power in the face of unarmed civilians.


Referring to a particularly painful internecine clash in a Palestinian refugee
camp in Damascus shortly after the border incident, Haydar said the violence
was evidence that the refugees rejected mandatory protests.


“The events at Yarmouk,” where mourners fought with members of a Palestinian
group that helped organize the border protests, "constitute a popular and
spontaneous uprising against the Palestinian factions taking advantage of the
refugees as well as the Syrian regime trading in the Palestinians’ blood.” At
the same time, she added, there is "definitely a real nucleus of eager youths
who believe in the importance of their peaceful movement."


“I do not conceal the fact that there are sides wishing to cause our people to
despair, to become confused and to lose any victory," added Rashad Abu Shawer
in Al-Quds al-Arabi. “But I trust our people in the camp of Yarmouk, the camp
of the revolution and the martyrs, and expect them to overcome this stage and
pinpoint the reasons behind what has taken place, so that it is never repeated


Unfortunately, as the stakes are raised in this next stage of the Arab
uprisings, and as the violence likely deepens, at least in Syria, events may
not only repeat themselves, they may move farther and faster than any of the
concerned actors can reasonably handle.


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