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UK Arabic paper says Saudi-Syrian media war could lead to confrontation

BBC Monitoring

Text of report by London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi website on 18 August

[Editorial: "A Saudi-Syrian Media War"]

Saudi-Syrian relations entered an unprecedented stage of tension when the Saudi Government replied through an authoritative official source to the reproachful criticisms levelled against it by Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shar'a, accusing him of deviating from the norms governing relations between countries and his Syrian Government of spreading chaos and troubles in the region.

The Saudi response was surprising in its violence and expressions in addition to its speed because it is Saudi Arabia's custom to wait before taking stands and to use more diplomatic words if it decides to respond to any criticism. This reflects a radical change in Saudi practices that happened when Saudi King Abdallah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz took over the reins of power in the country.

We are now before a media war of the heavy weight caliber between two countries that were until quite recently part of a strong alliance with Egypt,! the region's arbiter, and which formulated its policy for at least a quarter of a century.

The real source of danger lies in the possibility of this media war turning into bloody clashes in areas of rivalry and conflict, like Lebanon, and even Syria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia themselves, particularly as both sides' supporters in the Lebanese media have started a stage of open tongue lashing and the exchange of accusations.

What makes us put our hands on our hearts is the statement by Jamal Kashuqji, the editor of the Saudi Al-Watan newspaper and former adviser to Prince Turki al-Faysal, the former Saudi ambassador in London and Washington and before then the director of the intelligence service, to Al-Arabiya channel when commenting on the authoritative Saudi official's statement. He hinted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might possibly not allow the current power vacuum in Syria to continue and adopt proposals to change the present regime and support the! opposition forces.

Some might argue that Kashuqji does not hold any official position at present and therefore his remarks do not reflect the government's view. This is true but he remains a principal part of the Saudi media's strike machine and with constant knowledge of Saudi politics' courses and turns due to his background and his post.

The Arab region is at present in an unprecedented state of categorization and polarization. There are two main currents. The first is made up of the so-called countries of the moderate axis and these are Egypt, Jordan, and the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the [second] is the so-called axis of evil countries according to US classification and it includes Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The current Syrian-Saudi media altercation is one of the repercussions of this polarization.

If the Saudi Government's adoption of the theory of regime change in Syria does happen, then this will be a very grave development because it means acting in the open. Saudi Arabia has a vast financi! al surplus that enables it to cause harm by backing the Syrian opposition groups and in particular the alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] and Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, the former vice president who had split from the regime.

There are historic relations between the Saudi Government and the Syrian MB and they were severed only when [late] President Hafiz al-Asad joined the Saudi-Egyptian alliance.

Syria is not expected to remain silent should Saudi Arabia start to adopt the opposition to its regime and it can retaliate by backing groups opposed to the Saudi regime and its new axis. If the head of the regime is the target, then why not cooperate with the devil, in this case Al-Qa'idah organization, and some extremist Saudi groups, whether they are Sunnis or Shi'is?

One thing that is certain is that a final estrangement between Saudi Arabia and Syria has taken place and repairing their relations has become a difficult if not impossible task, even if Sau! di demands for Al-Shar'a's apology and backing down on his statements are met or even if he is removed from his post. They have gone separate ways and the clash between the two axes has become imminent. We will not be surprised if the dispute was fabricated in the first place to give vent to a suppressed frustration and bring it to the surface and justify the upcoming confrontations and clashes which start in Lebanon and then spread to other arenas.

Source: Al-Quds al-Arabi website, London, in Arabic 18 Aug 07


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