Sunday, October 15, 2006

Saudi regimes backsliding ?

There are two indications Arab regimes are getting cold feet about the whole idea of punishing Hamas and Syria just because the US said they should.

I. Saudi cold feet ?

Saudi media report with implied approval the views of an Egyptian ally of Hamas.

A hard-line news-site based in Riyadh give a respectful hearing to the views of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Akef (quoting an interview with him in the Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh). The news-site notes Akef said the scheme to remove the legitimate Hamas government is no longer just a US-Zionist scheme, but has become an "international" one, led by the US. Akef says the Palestinian crisis is part of a "comprehensive US strategy to close down the Arab League and foment sectarianism and divisions in the region generally, and in particular the fomenting of civil war in Palestine". (The reference to shutting down the Arab League probably refers to the fact that Syria, an Arab League member, was excluded from the recent Cairo meeting of GCC plus Jordan plus Egypt foreign ministers). Akef said although the immediate threat is in Palestine, people should realize this has region-wide implications, (it is part of an "attack on the ummah as a whole") because of the overall US plan for fomenting sectarianism and divisions everywhere in the region. The summary in al-Riyadh quotes Akef as summarizing motives for the US-Israel led attack on Hamas as follows: It is because Hamas has failed to "throw itself into the embrace of the American policy, and doesn't act in accordance with the Washington agenda".

As for the Hamas strategy itself, Akef described it as based on the unity of the ummah, and protecting its collective powers from the depredations of the Americans, in conjunction with the fostering of a culture of resistance as the basic way of dealing with the Zionist threat. This probably refers to Hamas hard line on recognition of Israel, because of the idea that caving in would shatter the unity of the resistance.

It was only about a week ago that Mamoun Fandy, a writer close to the Saudi king, wrote in Asharq al Awsat (see the earlier post "Echoes of the Cold War..." on Oct 8) that both the Egyptian MB and the Palestinian Hamas are creatures of Iran, and tools for the destruction from within of the Arab state. It looked to me like the inauguration of a joint Saudi-American project to demonize those standing up to the US as Creatures of the Evil Axis (Persian section). But here we have a mainstream Saudi newspaper, Al-Riyadh, and even a hard-line website like Islammemo linked to above, quoting with implied approval the quite opposite views of the MB leader.

One possible explanation is that while there is no longer any real diversity of opinion in the Western press (where no news organization is allowed to express support for either Hamas or the MB, not to mention Hizbullah), perhaps the liberal diversity-of-views tradition lives on in Saudi Arabia.

II. Egyptian cold feet ?

And Egypt deviates from the isolate-Syria line.

The pan-Arab London-based daily Al-Hayat printed a lengthy piece about a quick unnanounced visit to Damascus of the Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, said to have been in the context of Egyptian efforts to improve their relationship with Syria, bring the Assad administration back into the process of negotiating for a joint Israel-Palestian release of prisoners, and generally back into hoped-for discussions about a comprehensive settlement.

Citing unnamed sources, the journalist says Arab states represented at the Cairo meeting with Rice (where Syria was deliberately excluded) are now trying to smooth ruffled feathers. The Egyptians say Mubarak actually advised at that meeting against pressure on Syria and urged dialogue instead. Others said it was frankly a mistake to exclude Syria. And some pointed out you can't have a comprehensive regional peace agreement without Syria. If this friendship drive succeeds, the next step could be an Egypt-Syria summit, the journalist suggests.


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