Following The West's Attack On Syria, Sharp Dispute Breaks Out Between Egypt That Wants Assad To Remain, And Saudi Arabia That Now Wants Him Gone
On April 14, 2018, about a week after the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad carried out a chemical attack on the town of Douma near Damascus that killed dozens, the U.S., U.K. and France launched a joint military strike on regime bases and facilities associated with its chemical weapons capabilities. The attack threw into sharp focus the controversy between the two leaders of the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – on the Syrian issue. Even before the strike occurred, Saudi Arabia expressed firm support for military action against the Syrian regime, and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman expressed willingness to take part in such action, “should this become necessary.”
Shortly before the attack, a columnist in the Saudi government daily 'Okaz even called on the U.S. to target Assad's palace in Damascus in order to deter him from using chemical weapons again. After the attack, the Saudi authorities welcomed it, while articles in the Saudi press criticized the U.S. and its allies for not launching a more substantial strike that could alter the power balance on the ground.
In contrast, Egypt criticized the Western countries for attacking Syria. Egypt's Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the “military escalation” in Syria that threatened the Syrian people, and implied that Egypt doubted the U.S. claims that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons in Douma, calling for “a transparent international investigation” of the events in the town. The government and pro-government Egyptian press went further, expressing support for the Syrian regime and calling the Western attack an unjustified act of aggression. One article even claimed that the U.S. had supplied the rebel organizations with chemical weapons so they would carry out attacks on civilians that would then be blamed on the Syrian regime.
Other articles criticized Russia and Iran for not lifting a finger to repel the attack, although both have forces in Syria.
This report reviews the reactions in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to the U.S.-British-French military strike in Syria.
Egypt: The Attack Was A Mistaken And Unjustified Act That Will Only Complicate The Situation In Syria
As stated, Egypt criticized the attack, calling it an escalation of the hostilities that could sabotage the efforts, especially on the part of Russia, to establish ceasefires in Syria (ceasefires which, it should be noted, benefit the Syrian regime and its allies). Egypt even expressed doubt that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack in Douma. A statement issued by the foreign ministry several hours after the Western attack said: “Egypt expresses its grave concern over the present military escalation in the Syrian arena, due to its implications for the security of our brothers, the Syrian people and since it threatens the understandings that have been reached regarding the de-escalation zones. Egypt stresses its complete opposition to the use in Syria of any type of weapon that is prohibited by international [law], and demands to conduct a transparent international investigation into this matter, based on the international mechanisms and sources of authority. Egypt expresses its solidarity with the Syrian people as they strive to realize their aspirations to live in security and stability and maintain their national capabilities and the integrity and unity of their land through comprehensive understanding among all the political elements in Syria, far from the attempts to destroy their aspirations and hopes. Egypt calls upon the international community and the superpowers to carry out their responsibility of pushing for a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis…”
Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Radi also expressed concern about the “latest escalation” and support for the Assad regime, saying that Egypt supports “legitimate governments and national armies.”
Much fiercer opposition to the Western attack on Syria was voiced in the Egyptian press, which called it “aggression.” Headlines in the Al-Masri Al-Yawm daily on the day following the attack read “Tripartite Aggression against Syria,” “Syria in the Inferno of the Tripartite Military Aggression,” and “The [act of] Aggression at Dawn Will Cause Volcanoes of Rage to Erupt and Let Loose The Winds of Partition.” An article in the same issue stressed that “despite the political disagreements and the discrepancy [in positions] between Cairo and Damascus, the relations between Egypt and Syria remain historic.” It also likened the attack on Syria to the 1956 war in which British, French and Israeli forces invaded Sinai after Egyptian president Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, saying that the two countries thus have both dreams and painful memories in common.
Headline in Al-Masri Al-Yawm: “Syria in the Inferno of the Tripartite Military Aggression”
Other articles in the Egyptian government press claimed that the military strike violated international law and was also unjustified, because there was no proof that it was Assad who had used the chemical weapons. The articles claimed further that this attack was meant to save the “terrorists,” i.e., the rebel organizations, after they had failed in their action against the Syrian regime, and that it would exacerbate the suffering of the Syrian people. Some of the articles even condemned the Syrian regime's allies, Iran and Russia, and accused them of betraying the regime by failing to repel the Western attack.
Al-Ahram Editorial: The Attack Is A Replay Of The U.S. Invasion Of Iraq In 2003
An editorial of the government daily Al-Ahram published one day before the attack warned about the implications of Western military action, adding that the accusations currently leveled at the Syrian regime were reminiscent of the accusations leveled at the Iraqi regime before America's 2003 invasion of Iraq, which turned out to be false. The editorial said: “The Syria crisis has become an arena of conflict between the large superpowers, [who wish] to display [their] weight in the unfair international [power-]balance that is never inclined towards law or justice… America's threat to target Syria is outrageous and unjustified, for destroying Syria's capabilities undermines the existing institutions that safeguard the country's sovereignty and territorial [integrity]. History seems to be repeating the scenario [of Iraq in 2003], in which U.S. president George [W.] Bush decided to attack Iraq on the pretext that it had biological weapons. After Iraq was destroyed, this proved to be a big lie and British prime minister Tony Blair confessed to this crime, but his admission changed nothing, and the whole world saw the destruction wreaked in Iraq…
“The stench of war thickens the air, and the look in the eyes of small children anticipating an unknown disaster reveals [their] terror and anxiety. [In this situation,] sane people must intervene in order to prevent the war and the attack on Syria and seek binding political solutions to end the prolonged tragedy that the Syrian people are suffering inside and outside their country…
“The world does not need intercontinental military strikes. It needs political solutions that safeguard people's lives and liberty, and cut off funding to the terror organizations that are destroying the world and are the enemy of all growth and progress. Arab Syria is in our hearts, and we beseech Allah to protect its soil and its people and expel all the forces that harm it, [so that it may] rejoin the Arab fold.”
Al-Ahram cartoon: The “new imperialism” attacks the “Arab homeland” (Al-Ahram, Egypt, April 16, 2018)…