China's spectre hovers over Iran talks

Beijing does not hide its doubts over sanctions, and the West has to consider more seriously Iran's response to the proposal to enrich uranium in Russia and France.

China, an importer of Iranian oil, remains the toughest impediment to the West's plans to subject the Islamic Republic to new sanctions that seek to weaken the leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the corporations under their tutelage, wrote Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan. There is also Russia, which may have relaxed its stance to come closer to the US position, but whose intentions are still unclear whether it would approve a fourth batch of sanctions. However, during the latest round of six-nation talks on Iran, which was held on Saturday in New York, "it was China's spectre that loomed over the meeting room".

On the occasion of his country's chairmanship of the Security Council earlier this month, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations said that the time is not right to enforce sanctions against the Islamic Republic because diplomatic efforts are still going on to try to whittle down differences over Iran's nuclear programme. Because Beijing does not hide its doubts regarding the efficiency of new sanctions, the western powers now have to consider more seriously Iran's response to their proposal to enrich uranium in Russia and France.

"During my college days, we used to study a course offered by the media department called 'Islamic media' and, to this day, I still disagree with all those theories that sought to establish it on scientific grounds," wrote Nasser al Sarrami in the Saudi newspaper Al Jazirah. A number of professors have written about the subject and its academic viability, but it remains "hard and unreasonable" to try to put it into practice.

"The very appellation is problematic because everybody who works in the Saudi media is Muslim. And what about all those media outlets that represent a certain sect or ideology within Islamic culture itself?" More websites, blogs and forums are popping up these days and calling their product "Islamic press". Even television channels have joined in the trend. All of them devote narrow margins for innovation and tolerance and stick to a rigid set of conservative standards that border on sheer fanaticism. These outlets have a hard time accepting the arts, for instance, and readily write off important issues - women's status is only one of them - and consequently stay on the defensive. "Such practices can be called anything but journalism. Perhaps if a shrewd attorney took them up, he would manage to shut down most of these outlets and have them fined on charges of slander, libel and misleading information."

The determination of Nabil Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, to hold discussions about the formation of an authority in charge of eradicating political sectarianism in the country has engendered widely mixed reactions, said Ghasib al Mokhtar in the opinion section of the Lebanese newspaper Assafir.

Some said those discussions could wait, because current circumstances are not favourable. Others stressed the need to root out sectarian sentiments first before tackling legislation. There were those who called for guarantees to be given to Lebanon's Christians before getting on with the debate and others who demanded that the project be approved unanimously. Putting the discussions on a stand-by mode means that sectarianism will remain fixed in the spirit and the conventions of the Lebanese people for years to come. And offering guarantees to a particular sect would only entail more demands for guarantees by other groups, which runs counter to the very need to grow out of sectarianism. Then, there are those who see in the eradication of political sectarianism a gateway to a federal system, which is an old dream that has been revived recently. Even if used for routine political bargaining, tossing this "federation" card on an already messy table is a perilous manoeuvre.

Al Qa'eda has decidedly become a transcontinental organism, and perhaps only Antarctica is still spared its influence, wrote Mohammed bin Huwaidin in the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan.

There are many reasons why al Qa'eda has opted in the past months to relocate its activities to Yemen. Faced with strong pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qa'eda needed some breathing space, and Yemen offered the best landscape and the most propitious political and security conditions. "Yemen resembles Afghanistan in its mountainous relief, a characteristic that makes regular war difficult and gives an advantage to guerrilla warriors. Add to that, Yemen's community is quite similar to that of Afghanistan. Both populations consist of tribes which include a significant majority of illiterate and unemployed individuals who cherish the tradition of arms possession."

Al Qa'eda's primary objective in Yemen is to drag US troops into the Arab peninsula. Then the confrontation in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the US forces will necessarily abate, granting al Qa'eda leeway to replenish its resources and heal its scars. The US would also be lured into squandering money and logistics on yet another lost war, which is a victory in itself for al Qa'eda. * Digest compiled by Achraf A ElBahi