How do Arab media write about Assad and Syria?

Nov 7, 2014

President Assad remains a sharply divisive figure for mainstream Arabic-language media

In recent years, President Bashar al Assad has rarely been able to count on much support form western media, which portray him as a brutal, oppressive dictator.

Even when Islamist militants swelled the ranks of his opponents and began a campaign of violence against religious minorities and western journalists, few in Europe or America were prepared to express sympathy or support for Assad's position.

Meanwhile, western attention has largely been diverted away from the Syrian regime and towards what seems like the more pressing threat: Islamic State.

But in Arab and Middle Eastern publications, Assad's grip on power remains an urgent and divisive issue.

Here is an overview of what the mainstream Arabic-language media has to say on the subject:

American policy under attack

The predominant view of media outlets owned and funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar is that the US no longer seeks the removal of President Assad.

Bashir Abdul Fattah, writing for Qatar-based Al Jazeera Arabic, says the Syrian president is the big winner to emerge from US-led strikes against Islamic State militants – militants which, he says, emerged as a result of the Syrian regime's brutality towards millions of its own people.

Writing for Al Hayat, a Saudi-funded newspaper based in London, George Samaan said that in the battle against IS, Barack Obama does not want to discuss the fate and future of Assad. "Iraq is the prime field for this war", he says, not Syria.

Tariq Alhamaid of Al Sharq Al-Awsat, another Saudi newspaper, agrees. The US must "recognise its own failure in Syria" he says, and start properly arming the Free Syrian Army. Otherwise everything the US is doing in Syria will serve the regime without eliminating the threat of IS.

Divisions among Assad's opponents

Most Saudi and Qatari media say that any settlement in Syria should exclude Assad. But mainstream media in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates argue that the major threat in the region comes from Islamist movements and organisations – not necessarily the Syrian regime.

Akhbar Alarab, based in the UAE, reminds its readers of Assad's warning before the civil war broke out that any conflict in his country would inevitably drag in its neighbours. Turkey's support for Islamist anti-Assad movements in Syria has become a source of trouble in the region, it says, particularly among the Kurds, who have been infuriated by Turkey's lukewarm support for the battle against IS in Kobane.

Emad Al Din Adib, writing for the Egyptian Al Watan newspaper, says that Turkey's new leaders want to revive an old Ottoman glory by appointing themselves as the leaders of the whole region. In so doing, he says, they stoked up the chaos in Syria by claiming Turkey was "the only country able to topple the Assad regime."

Assad's allies on the front foot

For Beirut-based media close to the Syrian regime and its allies in Iran, Assad's army is still the best hope of pushing back IS and other Islamist militants.

Al Mayadeen TV, which is growing in popularity in the Arabic-speaking world, regularly carries reports of Assad's victories against the rebels. One recent dispatch said his army is destroying armoured vehicles, killing many armed rebels and reasserting control of Syria's southern border with Jordan.

The Beirut newspaper Al Safir says Assad is now in control of northern and western Aleppo, and is pushing towards gaining full control of the city.   

The paper suggests that Assad's regime is therefore in a strong position to negotiate with the UN special envoy to Syria, Steffan de Mistura, about proposed "non-conflict zones" in the country.  

Syria, the paper says, is refusing to accept the UN plan, claiming it is "impractical" to create conflict-free zones and insisting that any peace settlement should give "priority to fighting [Islamist] terrorism".  

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