2009: Taking stock of the region’s crises

The final weeks of 2009 found much of the Arabic-language press chewing over the region’s perennial crises.

Columnist Abdel Hamid Sayam of London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi wrote that 2009 saw an overall deterioration of many of the Arab World’s most serious ailments, including dictatorship, state dysfunction and civil war, along with rampant discrimination based on class, race, religion and gender.

“The year is ending with the Palestinian Gaza Strip still under siege; the Yemenis, Sudanese and Somalis still fighting each other; and Egypt and Libya still preparing for the father-to-son transfer of presidential power,” Sayam wrote.

Many columnists opined that 2009 represented yet another lost year for the so-called "peace process" between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The year began with the Israeli assault on Gaza," wrote one editorialist in Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam. "Then we saw the election of [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has since done everything in his power to render the dream of an independent Palestinian state impossible.”

As 2009 draws to a close, the writer concludes, Palestinians are more divided that ever between Fatah and Hamas, while the international community appears powerless to pressure Israel into making any tangible concessions to the peace process. 

Iraq, meanwhile, saw little in the way of improvement this year.

“Nothing has changed in terms of reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, while access to electricity and running water remains a mirage,” wrote Halim Salman of Iraqi daily Al-Rafidayn.  Salman goes on to say that security issues were still the overriding concern for most Iraqis, despite US rhetoric about the success of Washington’s military "surge" strategy.

A number of Arab commentators held Iran responsible for perpetuating the region’s problems.

For columnist Jihad el-Zein of Lebanese daily An-Nahar, Yemen’s el-Houthi insurgency–said to be backed by Tehran–constituted the single most important event in the Arab world in 2009. According to el-Zein, Iran has utilized its religious and financial ties with the insurgents to launch a proxy war against neighboring Saudi Arabia, its Sunni-Arab rival.

The writer goes on to warn of an Iranian-orchestrated strategy of provoking Shia minorities to rebel against their Sunni rulers in the Gulf, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

No overview of the year would be complete, however, without factoring in the effects of the ongoing global economic crisis.

According to one editorialist in Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, the attempt by Dubai World to restructure $26 billion of debt represented the year’s most serious development for the United Arab Emirates.

The writer wonders how the cash-strapped emirate will deal with its debt crisis, warning against the imposition of new taxes aimed at generating revenue, as this would adversely affect its image as a tax-free destination for international business.

The year was not, however, all bad. Some states of the region even saw limited diplomatic gains, according to some writers.

One analyst at Jordanian daily Al-Rai believes that the Syrian regime has emerged as the region’s chief beneficiary of US President Barak Obama’s new Middle East strategy.

“Syria received US and European assurances that the policy of ‘regime change’ is a thing of the past," he wrote. In 2009, Damascus "recovered its role as credible mediator in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq,” the writer concluded.

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