Friday, September 01, 2006

Uneasy Peace in Lebanon, Drums of War on the Persian Gulf

News and Commentary

It seems that the war of words over Lebanon has been toned down in most of the Arab media. There are exceptions however, including some dailies in Kuwait and one or two Saudi newspapers, and the London-based alquds alarabi, which takes the opposite view. A recent trend in the Gulf emirates has been to enlist professors at local universities to write opinion pieces on this issue that support the editorial positions of the newspapers. Presumably this is supposed to have more influence on public opinion, although I have my own serious doubts.

Arab media mention reports of mediation on an exchange of prisoners between Lebanon and Israel. The reports claim, alternately, that Italy and Germany are involved. Hassan Nassrallah, leader of Hezballah, has also hinted of 'negotiations' in recent days.

Some daily tabloids in the smaller emirates of the Persian Gulf region are beating the drums of war, all but urging a US attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. This is especially true of two tabloids in war-weary Kuwait of all places. However, this is not the case with most of the media in the region. One of the tabloids, alseyassah, claims on its front page (September 1) that an Iranian plot has been uncovered to start a massive terror campaign on the Arab side of the Gulf. It ties the plot to some top Hizbollah operatives, whom it claims have disappeared from the radar and might be in place for such a campaign. In other words, a Shi'a (Shiite to the infidels) version of the Sunni Salafi terror campaign that has plagued democratic Iraq. No other media sources in the region have carried this story. The same tabloid claimed last week that the US was planning a coup in Baghdad to overthrow the elected government and appoint Iyad Allawi as leader, with some former Baathist general as military commander. A news item like this, even though most likely fabricated by the editors, does not exactly enhance Mr. Allawi's chances of a political comeback.

A sign of things to come: reports indicate that Mr Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has ordered that only the Kurdish flag is to be raised on official buildings. The Alarabiya TV reports that he has ordered all Iraqi flags removed.

In Bahrain, Alarabiya TV quotes opposition figures as claiming that the Sunni rulers of the heavily Shi'a island (70-75%) are working to change the population mix by giving citizenship to thousands of Arabs and Asians. In the Gulf emirates, the issue of nationality and naturalization of foreigners is in the hands of the Minister of Interior (sort of like Attorney general in the USA or Home Secretary in the UK), who is always a powerful member of the ruling family. Bahrain has been plagued by high unemployment and discontent among the Shi'a majority for years.

In Egypt, there has been criticisms of the two funerals for the late Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. One funeral was held in an upscale part of Cairo, and was oddly a military service attended by the President and high offficials. The other funeral was held in his old modest neighborhood, in the poorer section of Cairo, near where he grew up and wrote his masterpieces. It is still not clear why a military service for a man who never served in the military.


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