Iran feeling the pressure

Arabic editorials also comment on the long road to democracy in Tunisia and the Arab League mission in Syria.

The revolutionary regime would be the first to fall in an Iranian war with the world

What befell Iran in the last few weeks following the European and US ban on transactions with its central bank has had the same devastating effect on it as a small nuclear bomb, suggested the columnist Abdelrahman Al Rashid in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat.

This is the highest level of international animosity and pressure that Tehran has been subjected to since the end of its war with Iraq 23 years ago. This explains the silent state of alert in Iran and its threats to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation.

This vital waterway for world economy is controlled by two states: Iran and Oman. It allows for the transportation of approximately fifth of the world's oil.

However, due to the new embargo, it has become quite difficult for president Ahmadinejad's government to collect the revenues of the oil it sells in world markets because the dollars and the euros it earns have to be channelled through western banks that are banned from transferring them to Iranian banks.

It is comparatively a tighter embargo than the one imposed on the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq during the 1990s. The Iraqi government at the time was allowed to sell its oil under an international agreement.

"How will Ahmadinejad's government pay its employees?" asked the writer. "How will it procure its nutritional and military needs without money, except by resorting to a highly costly money laundering scheme, which would cost it half its income?"

The current situation suggests that we are on the fast track to the final chapter of the strained global relationship with Iran, which, in the best-case scenario, could end positively should Iran back down and halt its nuclear project or, in the worst case, could escalate into an armed confrontation.

The international pressure crank-up on Iran under president Obama has been slow and gradual. The ban placed on transactions with the central bank of Iran offers support to the Iranian opposition that is getting ready for the first phase of municipal elections this year to be followed by parliamentary elections.

"In addition to Tehran's economic and financial plight, its essential ally in Syria is also hopelessly wavering as the Arab monitors mission did it no favours, nor did its manoeuvres to annihilate the opposition and quell the protests," added the writer.

Should Iran resort to military confrontation to ease its besieging in the Gulf, the war would ensue would be completely destructive and its first victim would be the Iranian regime itself.

Despite Iran's developed military arsenal, in the balance of power, it is still the weaker part in the face of the combined forces of the Gulf States as well as the US and other western forces that are all fighting a fateful war in Gulf waters.

Years of drought till democracy blooms

Compared to other countries that have been affected by the Arab Spring, Tunisia's performance in the post-Ben Ali era and the beginning of the democratic experience has been the most promising, commented Rajeh Khouri, a columnist with the Lebanese daily Annahar.

But Tunisia's future, as seen through the lens of current state of affairs, doesn't seem to respond to the rosy dreams of the revolution. Only a few days ago, the country's newly elected president, Moncef Marzouki had to rebuke the rebels who imposed the change but failed to find the discipline needed to begin forging their future and said: "The perpetuation of sit-ins is equivalent to mass suicide. We will be forced in the end to eat rocks."

His strong warning reflects growing fears of seeing more investors leave Tunisia and more factories and institutions closing or going out of business due to whimsical protests and increasing chaotic strikes. Tunisia's growth rate fell to zero, while investments dropped by 30 per cent and tourism ground to a halt. Thousands of employees have been discharged as 114 institutions were forced to close down as a result of 326 strikes and sit-ins that produced one million unemployed citizens.

"Marzouki's call is a warning to all the capitals of the Arab Spring where a long period of disappointment will take hold before the first blooms of democracy can be seen," said the writer.

Arab observer mission should not be over yet

There is no doubt that the Arab League didn't achieve the successes it hoped for with its monitors mission in Syria.

But, at the same time, it is important to note that the mission hasn't reached a dead-end yet and that it is still early for the League to declare failure in the Syrian crisis, said the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan in its Saturday editorial.

"The problem in the League's mission is inexperience rather than a default in the mechanism itself.

The monitors did contribute, during the first 10 days of their mission, to the release of thousands of prisoners and to reach a clearer view of the facts on the ground," commented the paper.

To prematurely announce the failure of the mission that is intended to prevent the internationalisation of the crisis would be unfavourable and unconstructive haste.

The dangers of internationalisation would be much more damaging than the Arab solution.

"If the Arab solution is to succeed, greater transparency is required from the Arab monitors.

"It is necessary that they relay the real image of the situation and confront the Syrian authorities on every issue."

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem