Opponents of Turkish vote fear the AKP

More than 50 million Turks were eligible to vote on Sunday on whether to amend articles of the constitution proposed by the ruling party under the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says Bakr Sidqi in an article for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

More than 50 million Turks were eligible to vote on Sunday on whether to amend articles of the constitution proposed by the ruling party under the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says Bakr Sidqi in an article for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat. The referendum on amendments to the constitution that was forged after a 1980 military coup turned into a battle between the Islamic-orientated government and traditional powers that want to protect Turkey's secular principles.

Proposed amendments aim to make the military more accountable to civilian courts and allow for more civil liberties. If approved, they would also lift immunity from prosecution for the engineers of the 1980 coup. They include as well positive improvements in women's rights, all essential steps toward a EU-style democracy. However, for the past two months, the proposal was subject to controversy. In truth, opponents don't have any negative criticism of the amendments themselves, but of the party that proposed them. Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said that the amendments wouldn't be sufficient and, if approved, they would lead to a more comprehensive new constitution that reflects the strides that Turkey has achieved during the past 30 years.

In a comment article for the Qatari daily Al Watan, Mazen Hammad wrote: "President Barack Obama surprised observers when he announced that Mahmoud Abbas only agreed to direct negotiations with Israel when he realised that the opportunity to establish a Palestinian state is fading."

His statements are surprising because he understands the difficulties on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Despite that, he doesn't fulfill his role as mediator to keep the window of opportunity open. Mr Obama also surprised Israel's friends when he called on it to extend the partial settlement freeze beyond September 30. His remarks can be interpreted as pressure on Israel. However, as Mr Obama called on his ally to extend the freeze as a goodwill gesture, right wing elites in Benjamin Netanyahu's government are threatening to withdraw from government if the extension is approved.

Palestinian sources are saying that there is an implicit agreement starting to take shape restricting Israeli authorities from building new residential units in the settlements. In any case, if the settlement freeze isn't extended, the Palestinian Authority will have to execute its ultimatum to withdraw from negotiations, which would mean the end of Mr Abbas's political career.

The sectarian problem in Gulf countries has become a serious security issue particularly now that the conflict has taken on domestic and regional dimensions, says Dr Shamlan Youssef al Issa in the Emirati daily Al Ittihad. The GCC has called on the UK to deal severely with terrorist-supporters as they jeopardise security and stability. GCC foreign ministers expressed their full support to Bahrain's anti-terrorism measures recently, while Bahrain vowed to keep a close watch on religious discourse as a way to prevent sectarian sedition.

Meanwhile, rows continue to erupt in Kuwait'sparliament as Sunni and Shiite members clash over unpatriotic behaviour. But why is the sectarian issue raging now in the Gulf and how can we mitigate its consequences? Disagreement between Sunnis and Shiites in Arab and Gulf communities have been numerous in recent years. Wise and calculated steps are required to stifle provocation. That can only be achieved, says the writer, through an acknowledgment of the Shiite minority in all political aspects. Many Shiites however claim political and religious discrimination. The sectarian issue has been heavily politicised to a point where it has become difficult to distinguish between reality and the political agendas of extremist religious parties and groups. Both groups must unite against this new wave of sedition that threatens to tear the region apart.

On the eve of direct negotiations, President Barack Obama requested Israel to extend the freeze on settlement activities, says the Emirati daily Al Khaleej in its editorial.

Mr Obama knows that a simple request is not enough. He previously proposed a freeze as a precondition for the concession process, but Israel declined and called for unconditional talks. He acquiesced and negotiations began on Israel's terms. This means that the US administration isn't the decision-maker. It simply asks and suggests but cannot in any way impose its will. On the contrary, it is Israel that imposes its command, while the US implements and orders Arabs to follow suit.

Mr Obama is aware of the power of the Jewish lobby and its ability to reshape the political map in the US. Therefore, Mr Obama's request comes as a joke, as it is this same lobby that determines the fate of the Democratic Party in Congress and Mr Obama's future in the White House. On the other hand, the US president can impose anything on the Palestinians because he is conscious of the extent of their power.

It is this power equation that heralds a catastrophic end, as with all previous negotiations. * Digest compiled by Racha Makarem rmakarem@thenational.ae