Voices from the Arab press

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

A MUBARAK supporter mourns near the main gate of a cemetery during the leader’s burial ceremony, east of Cairo on February 26.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MUBARAK supporter mourns near the main gate of a cemetery during the leader’s burial ceremony, east of Cairo on February 26.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mubarak: Guardian of the Palestinian people
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, March 2
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak devoted much of his life to promoting the Palestinian issue. One of the most meaningful periods of time under his rule was when the Oslo peace process began being implemented. Mubarak, who knew Yasser Arafat was a stubborn leader, pushed his Palestinian counterpart to rid himself of his radical and tireless fight against Israel and launch peace-building measures on the Palestinian side.
Mubarak’s mission became more complicated when a dramatic change of power took place in Israel, following the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the downfall of the Shimon Peres government. This gave rise to the Sharon-Netanyahu era, where Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank grew at unprecedented rates while the Israeli far-right crept into the consensus of Israeli society. The Israelis adopted a unilateral approach that bars the Palestinian leadership from a seat at the table. Mubarak’s advice to Arafat was that his anger against the Israelis must not translate into an abandonment of the peace process, since doing so would only jeopardize the legitimacy of the Palestinian people. It was at that time that Mubarak’s diplomacy became critical to the salvation of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Cairo and Sharm e-Sheikh became the hubs to which Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors would fly to in order to work together, under Egyptian auspices, to preserve the peace process.
Following Arafat’s death, Mubarak continued to maintain a close relationship with the Palestinian leadership through Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas brought hope of saving the collapsed political process. President Mubarak continued to urge the Palestinians to be patient and maintain direct negotiations with the Israelis and the Americans. Unfortunately, the internal Palestinian clash between Fatah and Hamas soon erupted. But there, too, Cairo proved to be an instrumental ally of the Palestinian people, and Mubarak worked tirelessly to end the Palestinian split.
Mubarak’s right-hand man, Gen. Omar Suleiman, was tasked with overseeing inner-Palestinian talks during this period. As the Palestinian ambassador to Egypt at the time, I attended all of these meetings. This period marked the largest number of meetings between the Palestinian president and Mubarak, who personally sought to help solve this issue. Mubarak was forced to step down after a three-decade rule.
He decided to sacrifice himself in order to salvage his country. Mubarak was a warrior who fought all the wars of Egypt, and rose from the rank of a junior officer to the rank of supreme commander of the armed forces. He was awarded numerous military honors for the remarkable merit in the October War [Yom Kippur War]. And during his reign as president, he led an equally fierce and sophisticated campaign against terrorism.
I still remember when he made the decisive decision to host the African Summit in Cairo, despite the ongoing threats of terrorism in his country. He ended up scoring two victories: overseeing a successful summit, and foiling attempts to sabotage the conference with a terror attack. President Mubarak was an honorable warrior, a wise statesman, and a shrewd politician.
Above all, he was a sincere and honest friend of the Palestinian people. May God have mercy on his soul.
             – Nabil Amr, former Palestinian ambassador to Egypt

Algeria and the Libyan crisis
Al-Etihad, UAE, February 25
In the wake of clashing international positions on the civil war in Libya, it was easy to ignore Algeria, Libya’s neighbor to the west, which was busy dealing with its own internal affairs. Today, a new government in Algeria is trying to make its voice heard amid this fuss.
A look at all the players that have a stake in the Libyan civil war reveals two main camps: first, the national reconciliation government, recognized by the United Nations, in Tripoli, and second, the Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar. The former receives important military support from Turkey, financial assistance from Qatar and some diplomatic support from Italy, while the latter’s list of benefactors includes Russia and France. This battlefield is also plagued by a variety of mercenaries and terrorists.
All this is extremely troubling for Algeria, which is dealing with the consequences of political instability on its eastern border: an influx of refugees, the infiltration of terrorists and a spillover of fighting. The costs of securing Algeria’s borders with Libya have risen since a 2003 terrorist attack on a gas station killed more than 40 employees, most of them foreigners. It is also believed that many terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda infiltrated the country from Libya.
Algeria, which views itself as a leading player in North African politics, has historically been suspicious of any foreign presence in its vicinity. However, the ill health of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who played an important role in the affairs of the Maghreb and Sahel regions for a long time, meant that Algeria could not impose its own position on Libya. Even as other countries stepped in, Algeria’s pursuit of regional primacy – as well as its rich oil and gas-backed economy – has weakened. Indeed, even before Bouteflika was forced to resign last spring, no one heeded Algeria’s warnings of instability. The Algerians recognized the government of national reconciliation, but they tried to maintain neutrality, and they encouraged the two warring parties to find a peaceful solution. These efforts at diplomacy have not matched the weapons and money that other players injected into the region.
In recent weeks, the new government in Algiers has tried to reestablish itself as a regional arbiter. In this regard, Algeria last month hosted the foreign ministers of countries bordering Libya to discuss the ongoing crisis. The meeting yielded several photo-ops, but it was quickly shadowed by two more important conferences on Libya held in Moscow and Berlin. The truth is that the new Algerian leader, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has many domestic problems on his agenda. Libya is not one of them. In this context, Tebboune released many prisoners and promised constitutional reforms, to cleanse the government of the elements of the old regime, and to restore the embezzled money by figures from the previous ruling elite. Tebboune’s biggest challenge is to revive the Algerian economy; a task made harder given the low oil prices. Given this internal agenda, Algeria’s hopes for playing a role in ending the crisis with its neighbor on the East will have to wait. – Bobby Ghosh

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.