The Way Out

I prefer to see what happened as a great fire, which many shared in starting, some out of negligence and stupidity, some out of revenge, some of out greed and some out of inattention. Everyone thought his own actions explained the fire’s outbreak, but the truth, God knows, is they all joined in starting it… And what matters is that they started it, and the army came to power claiming to put it out.

This is a passage from Ezzedine Choukri Fischere's Bab El Khoroug ("The Way Out") which I took with me this summer while traveling outside Egypt. I just wrote about in for the LRB blog.   

 

The tale of Kerdasa's police chief

Thugs are thugs. They attack because they can. It makes little difference whether they are from the MB or not. Those were Kerdasa's police chief Mohamed Gabr's thoughts on his unfriendly neighborhood thugs, according to his relative Mohamed Khalil, which he conveyed a month before his brutal murder became a default example of the violence carried out by some Islamists.

Khalil and his friend Amr (an acquaintance) met chief Gabr the night they got into car accident and were taken to the Kerdasa police station for driving without a license on the Mehwar. The man offered the tea and coffee while they waited for the unlawful released the car without due process. Mostly done as a favor for his relative, partly because parts of the vehicle were going to “get misplaced” in police custody anyway. 

There Khalil and Amr encountered two signs of police weakness. The first came as a suggestion by chief Gabr himself to pay a neighborhood thug some money to let their car be and the second stood as a reminder outside the station. 

Read More

Statement by the Coptic Church

A translation of a statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church, chiefly blaming international media for its depiction of events and warning against "foreign interference."  Translated by Osman Osman.

Statement of the Coptic Church
The Egyptian Coptic Church follows the regrettable development of events on the lands of our motherland Egypt. It affirms that it strongly supports the Egyptian Police and Armed Forces as well as all the institutions of the Egyptian nation in confronting the groups of armed violence and dark terrorism operating from inside and outside Egypt, the attacks against the State’s entities and the peaceful churches and the terrorization of Muslim and Christian Egyptians in full contradiction with the values of religions, moralities and humanity. 
Whereas we appreciate the stances taken by states and countries that understand the reality of such developments, we strongly condemn the misleading media coverage in the Western countries, and we call upon the media representatives to objectively look into the reality of events, and to refrain from providing an international or political cover for such terrorist blood-thirsty groups and all those who belong to them, as such groups intend to unfold devastation and destruction in our beloved country.
We call upon the Western and international media to reflect the real image of what is happening, in a truthful genuine manner and with due integrity.
While we present our condolences to the families of the victims and those who lost their lives in service, we wish the injured a speedy recovery.
We adhere to the strong national unity, and we fully reject all endeavours to drag the country into sectarian animosity. We consider that any foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Egypt is totally rejected.
While the hands of evil are involved in burning, killing, and destroying, the hands of God are close to us: protecting, fostering and building. We have confidence in God’s assistance that will help our Egyptian people in overcoming such a difficult chapter of our history towards a better and brighter future, where justice, peace and democracy will prevail, exactly what the people of the noble River Nile valley deserves.
Long live Egypt, free and dignified

 

Driving about with the Islamists

Sixth of October Bridge is missing parts of its railing. Although only one armored vehicle was fell off it. 

With one eye on the railing rather than the road and another on his phone, my cousin searched for a scandalous picture on his phone. “I found it! Look at actress Elham Shaheen sleeping naked next to Mahmoud Abdel Aziz!” he said, showing us a blurry picture of a clothed Menna Shalabi and Kareem Abdul Aziz cuddling under a blanket that’s only a few inches short of their neck.  

“And then she gets mad when Abdullah Badr calls her a whore,” my father said, shaking his head, and passed the phone to my uncle to see. 

“Oh, it’s art! It has a message within the dramatic context; it’s purposeful!” my uncle quoted the common intellectual defense of nudity in films in a singsong manner. 

“The message is: I am a whore,” my cousin replied. They guffawed.

The laughter died once the Ministry of Finance finally came into view, it was reportedly attacked by MB supporters on Wednesday night with Molotov cocktails. 24 hours later, parts of the building were on fire again. On the seventh floor, bright yellow and orange flames were dancing unfettered by the three fire trucks parked in front of the building. The firefighters, distracted by their sandwiches, had pointed their hoses a tad too low, accidentally watering the shrubbery in front of the ministry instead of putting out the fire.

Read More

August 14 in Egypt in numbers

Dead (according to Ministry of Health, and still counting): 525

Wounded: 3,500

Churches, monasteries, Christians schools and libraries attacked (Source) : 56

Days that Mohamed ElBaradei lasted as a civilian figure-head of the army-run "second revolution" before resigning in protest: 28

Other resignations: 0 

Justifications presented by Egypt's non-Islamist media and political parties for the gratuitous murder of hundreds of their fellow citizens, and commendations of the security forces for their "steadfastness" and "restraint": too many to count

It only gets worse from here

You could ask a thousand questions about the violence that has shaken Egypt, from why police decided to move now against Islamist sit-ins and with such brutality after making so much of its careful planning in the last week, to whether the attacks on churches and Christians more generally that erupted in reaction are part of a pre-planned reaction or the uncontrollable sectarian direction political tensions take in moments of crisis. But the question that really bothers me is whether this escalation is planned to create a situation that will inevitably trigger more violence – that this is the desired goal.

The fundamental flaw of the July 3 coup, and the reason those demonstrators that came out on June 30 against the Morsi administration were wrong to welcome it, is that it was based on an illusion. That illusion, at least among the liberal camp which is getting so much flak these days, was that even a partial return of the old army-led order could offer a chance to reboot the transition that took such a wrong turn after the fall of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. This camp believed that gradual reform, even of a much less ambitious nature than they desired in 2011, would be more likely to come by accommodating the old order than by allowing what they perceived as an arrangement between the military and the Islamists to continue. Better to focus on fixing the country, notably its economy, and preventing Morsi from sinking it altogether, and take the risk that part of the old order could come back.

Read More

ConspiracyLand

With the media frenzy and the MOI’s warnings on the radio and news tickers asking citizen to beware anything that looks strange and report it (bad time to be Somaya El Khashab in Cairo), more and more people are subscribing to the belief that the lack of evidence for a theory, only proves the conspiracy.

And it’s not just Egyptians. Recently, I have met a number of Syrians who were convinced that some Alawites joined the Raba’a sit-in to make it look as if the Sunni Syrian refugees in Egypt support Morsi to turn the media and the public against them.

“(Alawite Syrians) probably thought (Sunni Syrians) got too comfortable here and thought: Let’s stir strife,” bemoaned Ahmed Khalil, who has noticed an increase in stares and snide comments ever since Morsi’s removal. Needless to say, this theory would be extremely difficult to document, yet alone proven to be true, which to Khalil only goes to show that it is true. "No one will admit and no traces will be found...exactly what you would expect from a well-executed plan." Or from an imaginary one.

In order for any theory to flourish, it needs only be mentioned once, preferably in a question format [ex: Why does group X drink a lot of milk? Could they be paid by Juhayna?], in an article or on late night TV. The viewers/readers and their friends will spread the word faster than fellow channels and newspapers on Facebook and Twitter. By the time it reaches a third and fourth parties, it’s fact and questions implying that one is not readily accepting it as such, or is not sufficiently frightened by it, mostly results in sighs and sidelong glances.

The following are the fresh and reheated conspiracy theories in Egypt in no particular order:

Read More

All about Sisi

A few days ago, amidst a flurry of articles about General al-Sisi (see below), someone on Twitter asked me if I would weigh in. I thought I might just begin to write more about what's been taking place over the last month, which I haven't done because I've been on holiday, have not been in Egypt since May, and rather wait till the shrill, hysterical atmosphere in Egypt died down (more on that later).

Sisi's speech calling for a "popular procuration" to tackle terrorism has made the curiosity about the general justified. By any standards, Sisi – despite having tried hard to emphasize the civilian face of the July 3 coup early on – has taken leadership of the country and President Adly Mansour is an obvious, clearly powerless, fig leaf. Questions about his political ambitions are normal, whether the current media frenzy in his support – including calls for him to run for president – is at his behest or simply the gesticulations of what masquerades as the press in Egypt these days.

Read More

ElBaradei and his detractors

Mohammed ElBaradei -- now Egypt's vice-president for foreign affairs -- has taken to the Western and Arab media lately to defend the July 3 coup but also to make the case for negotiating with the Brotherhood and taking their fears and grievances at least partly into consideration. Here he is in the Washington Post: 

People are very angry. People are very angry with me because I am saying, “Let’s take time, let’s talk to them” [The Brotherhood]. The mood right now is, “Let’s crush them, let’s not talk to them.” That would last for one week, and then they would come back. It would be a disaster everywhere, inside Egypt and outside Egypt. We need to get a long-range view based on restoring order and based on national consensus and reconciliation. I hope the Brotherhood understands that time is not on their side. I’m holding the fort, but I can’t hold it for very long.

ElBaradei clearly does not have the support of the deep state (which would apparently like nothing better than an endless cycle of violence/repression) or of a considerable portion of the political and media elite, which sees this as its chance to keep Islamists out of politics for the foreseeable future. Witness the fresh onslaught of attacks on him. Here is a presenter on Tahrir TV (once a "revolutionary" channel, now apparently a mouthpiece for the intelligence and police) tearing up ElBaradei WPost interview on the air and berating him for "submitting to terrorism."

 

Rumble in Cairo

Nour, The Arabist's invaluable Intern, share this account of what has become everyday violence in Cairo. 

Verse 99 in Quran is a fragment of a conversation between the prophet Yūsuf, not Allah, and his parents, and not all of mankind, in which he says: "Enter Egypt, if Allah wills, in safety." The verse, which many Egyptians read too much into, is often partly quoted on talk shows, usually near the end of an episode in which the host wants to leave the audience on a hopeful note, or in the middle of a monologue about the eventual failure of terrorists (meaning Islamists) to control it and thus make it unsafe to live in.

That quote, which is closer to a causal "You'll be alright, God willing" than a divine promise of perpetual security and safety, the chronic lack of which Egyptians don’t need to be reminded of, is by far the most ironic sentence one can hear from a man, who just three hours ago was threatening to burn the face of an annoying stranger with acid.

 
Read More

Sissi's choice

 Lt Gen al-Sissi's call to Egyptians to take to the streets to support unspecified measures against "terrorism" is a potentially risky move for him. To be sure, outright criticism is mostly limited to those groups who have long been skeptical of the army's involvement in politics from the beginning. But this direct foray into mass politics is a signal to the army's civilian politician partners that they are dispensable, and a few are grousing about such a circumvention of the way things are normally done in a civilian-led state. Investors, who were delighted to see Morsi pushed from power, are nervous.

Unless he genuinely miscalculated the impact of what he said  -- as we learned with SCAF, this is always a possibility when career military men enter politics -- al-Sissi has diverged considerably from his July 3 strategy of having a civilian interim government out in front. That strategy presumably stemmed from al-Sissi's experience in SCAF, whose tenure as the direct rulers of Egypt from 2011-2012 began to tarnish the military's treasured reputation as the apolitical guardians of the country.

Al-Sissi didn't really need to break with this strategy. Al-Sisi is vastly popular, there are no indications of any serious breaches between the army and Adly Mansour's government, and the Muslim Brothers, though defiant, are really far too isolated to pose much of a threat to the transition. Why might al-Sissi have chosen to change his strategy? 

Read More

Egypt rips off Syria rips off Israel

From left to right: the (original) Israeli, Syrian and Egyptian version of the cartoon.

Sarah Carr notes this cartoon is making the social media rounds from an pro-Interior Ministry Facebook page in Egypt, depicting the Egyptian Army as the defender of the public against the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Tom Gara pointed out on Twitter that another version exists on pro-Assad Arabic language venues - as the FSA vs. the Syrian Army: and in fact, that shows how the entire image is a repurposed commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That's pretty impressive traction for a political cartoon. The same cannot be said of the photoshopping, though. There are still Hebrew letters in the lower right hand corner of the Egyptian version. In the anti-FSA take, the soldier's helmet is discolored because the image has been edited over to make a comment on multiple armed conflicts. And ironically, because only factional/national symbols are changed, the this means that the Egyptian and Syrian soldiers are both using an Israeli-manufactured assault rifle. In fact, this Egyptian version didn't even bother removing the flag of Palestinian armband from the jihadist, which, funny enough, would match up with the growing Israeli-Egyptian consensus on the Sinai: that all of the agitation and lawlessness there is Hamas' fault. In all likelihood, though, this image is probably more of a comment on the demonstrators who were shot outside of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo than an attempt to conflate Hamas with the ousted Brothers.

[Ed note: if the cartoon showed up only a few days ago, it is probably a commentary on Friday's Mansoura protest, in which thugs attacked women and children in a MB rally and killed three. Anti-MB commentators in the press have been accusing the group of using human shields.]

But since the original image depicts a view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has little popular appeal within the Middle East outside of Israel itself, one imagines that some of the photoshoppers are not quite aware of the implications of the original. Other photoshops of this image show just how much mileage this image can get internationally, including the (preposterous) suggestion that only Muslims fight behind human shields, while Westerners always protect noncombatants. One could also have a field day with respect to the way the women and children are portrayed on the two sides, but that would be another post entirely.

Nonetheless, officials in all three countries depicted here as the defending soldier might actually agree on the general presentation of the common denominator: Islamist (née anti-government) political violence.

Such a force has always been seen as a great threat by governments in the region since at least the early 1980s, if not earlier, with such actions as the outlawing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for decades, the 1976-1982 Syria internal conflict, Israel's arrests of the clerics who would go on to found Hamas, etc. Everything that has happened since the beginning of armed resistance in Syria (the ethnic cleansing, the Lebanese spillover) and the Muslim Brotherhood's election in Egypt (the constitutional changes, the Maspero massacre) have revived these fears with a vengeance. It is, perhaps, one of the few transnational issues almost all of the governments in the region - aside from pro-Brotherhood Tunisia, Qatar, and Turkey - can agree on as a significant threat to their current state of rule.

10 hours of talking

Nour The Intern was assigned the task of monitoring Egypt’s rambunctious talk shows for an evening. This is her report.

After watching four consecutive hours of TV talk shows, followed by six hours online watching the talk shows I missed while watching TV – all telling me exactly how much I love and trust the army (a.k.a. The People's Army, The Patriotic Army and The Great Egyptian Army) whose generals and their predecessors and ancestors I ought to be writing a thank-you letter for – I was basking in the knowledge that helped my people save Egypt from terrorism and I wanted to buy a villa in Mountain View so I, too, could finally enjoy a quiet picnic with my wife.

What’s more baffling than my forgetting my financial status and my sexual orientation is the continuation of debate about whether or not there was such a thing as secular media bias, as if the tears of joy, the singing, the woo-hoos and the flag-waving that took place on-air moments after Morsi’s removal didn’t give anything away. 

Read More

On Egypt's failure

I have been out of Egypt since late May, and my reaction to all that's happened there is shaped by that distance, by not having had the contact high of millions on the street, the ambient euphoria of collective will flexed and fulfilled.  But in this case perhaps it was a good thing. 

When I left the Tamarrod campaign seemed significant but unrealistic, part of the politics of regret and indignation that was all the powerless non-Islamist groups had left. Now lo an behold their improbable demands have all been granted, the compass of power has flipped, and we have Islamist leaders facing prison and men like Mohamed El Baradei in government. 

Read More

Sisi's speech to the army, and Morsi

Below is a summary of the above video of Egypt's Minister of Defense / military leader Abdelfattah al-Sisi addressing officers about Egypt's current situation yesterday. 

Al-Sisi started off saying that he called for talks between the MB and the opposition back in November. The SCAF was not interested in leading these talks, they only called for them out of fear that "the disagreement between the elders would eventually trickle down to the Egyptian people, (leading) to deep polarization. (That's why) we said sit down and talk it out.

"I never failed, and I never hesitated to, give the president sincere and honest advice throughout this whole year," he said, enunciating every word. However, no one's vision of a state includes a siege of the constitutional court, or a siege of the Media Production City.

"No," he said, laughing to himself. "There is a great, patriotic army here. Do remember my words, when I said that the Egyptian army is patriotic. A patriotic army. An army for Egypt and Egyptians, not for someone else." He went on to say that the people's freedom of choice should not be subject to religious manipulation.

"(No one) can say: it's sharia or something else. No. It's a experiment of governance, if it succeeded, then you succeeded, and if it failed, then you failed. You can't say that this is religion (referring to Morsi's rule) and that those (meaning the opposition) are people who are fighting religion," he elaborated.

Egypt is at a crossroads, he said, we must choose and no one can dictate to us our actions and no one can force anything on us. The SCAF acted on behalf of the people, but it is not their guardian and it can not dictate them, he added. 

"Even though the circumstances have forced the SCAF to get close to the political process, it only did so because the people called for it," he said. The people did so after realizing that "their army" is capable of putting Egypt on the right track.

"The SCAF never sought out this mission and it never asked for it. It preferred, and still does, to stay faithful to its beliefs and principles with the people and stay committed to its role," without overreaching or overstepping, he went on to say that the place of the armed forces is now known and clear in the modern world and no party has the right to drag into complications, which might prove to be too much to handle.

"We have no reservations. We only ask for one thing. That those who protest to protest peacefully and not resort to violence or harm others," he added, before specifically telling someone in the audience that "when you are one side, and there is someone on the other side, don't forget that the other side has rights, which you need to keep in mind, regardless of whether or not you approve their practices."

By minute five, a slightly chubby soldier stood up to compliment the Gen. for his statement on July 3, which made Egyptians very happy. "They have needed that happiness for years and months," he concluded before they cut to another soldier, who wanted to express the pride he feels every day in the knowledge that he is a soldier and that Gen. al-Sisi is in charge. Then another soldier got up to reaffirm the soldiers' dedication to defend Egypt with him. 

The video then cuts to al-Sisi pointing a finger and saying: "If you don't find a way to neutralize your opposition force, as a leader; then step down."

 He went on to address Morsi personally: "You have entered into a conflict with the judiciary, and you have entered into a conflict with the media, and you have entered into a conflict with the civilian police, and you have entered into a conflict with public opinion, and you also entered into a conflict with the SCAF, and you are some of them (referring to the audience) and you can withstand fire, and withstand iron...but (you) get hurt by words. You get insulted, and insults in the Egyptian military is an affront to the national pride. We can't take it," he explained. 

He ended his speech with a smile, saying: "Egypt is the mother of the world and it will be as big as the world."

 

The protests as seen by the anti-Morsi camp

The protests as seen by the anti-Morsi camp

According to the above cartoon, these are the types of Morsi supporters: The Ignorant, he was told by a sheikh that opposing Morsi is forbidden; The Sheep, he’s motivated to join the pro-protest to create a traffic jam and he doesn’t know why he here is; The Ikhwani, he is brainwashed and for anything his MB leaders tell him to do; The Terrorist, the one who came from Gaza to kill and destroy; The One With Military Issues, he thinks that this is a conspiracy and thinks Morsi didn’t get a chance yet, and The Israel Lovers, the one who stands to benefit from the existence of the MB and terrorism in Egypt.

The word polarization fails to describe what is happening now. Public opinion is more of an aggregation of wishes for the defeat, suffering and death of certain members of the public, who are no longer considered members altogether, by other members of the public, whom they no longer consider members of the public.

Read More

Today's Egyptian newspaper headlines

 State-owned:

al-Ahram: "Egypt abandoned to fear"

al-Akhbar: "Egypt on fire" 

al-Gomhoureya: "The longest day in the history of Egypt" 

Rose al-Youssef: "The people wants to decide its own fate" 

 Private press (mostly anti-Morsi):

al-Masri al-Youm: "Revolutionaries to Morsi: one year was enough"

al-Shorouk al-Jadid: "30 June: Egypt delivered to its fate" 

Youm al-Saba3e: "Red card for the president: 22 million signatures for Tamarrod" 

Al-Tahrir: "Leave!" 

al-Destour: "Today is the end of Morsi and of his gang"

The delegitimization of Mohamed Morsi

I have a piece in The National   looking the three battling types of legitimacy in Egypt — revolutionary, electoral and institutional — and how they have played out in the last two years. The piece offers no predictions on the outcome of June 30, as there are too many variables and unknowns, but I do feel grimly confident of the following: 

  • The army will wait it out to the last minute (possibly disastrously so as early intervention might be better in cases of large-scale violence) and may be internally divided about how to proceed (hence the hesitation).
  • Should Morsi be toppled, it will create an enormous problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists for years to come. They will feel cheated of legitimately gained power and Egyptian politics will only grow more divisive and violent. 
  • Whatever alliance came together behind the Tamarrod protests will fall apart the day after its successful, because its components are as incompatible as the alliance that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
  • The leadership around the NSF (ElBaradei, Moussa, Sabahi etc.) has followed rather than led Tamarrod and will not be able to provide effective leadership in the coming days. Only the army can. 
  • If Morsi remains and the protests are repressed or simply die out, the country will nonetheless remain as difficult to govern considering Morsi's lack of engagement with the opposition. 

I'd like, time permitting, to do a series of short posts on the current crisis over the next day or two. I have not been in Egypt since late May as I'm spending the summer in Morocco, but do want to note some of the more long-term trends that led to this moment.  

What is most striking about June 30 is how effectively Mohamed Morsi has been delegitimized despite his election, a year ago, having been largely considered free and fair by the public. Part of that is his own fault, of course: his November 27, 2012, constitutional declaration was probably illegal and ended any benefit of the doubt the opposition was ready to give to him. The rushing of the constitution was likewise a slap in the face that created the opportunity of the current moment, with revolutionaries, liberals and old regime members temporarily collaborating against what they perceive as the greater evil of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he has made at least one disastrous decision, in the context of last December's crisis, that has significantly worsened the economic outlook of the country by postponing reforms that had been planned as part of the IMF rescue package. I do not think it is fair, however, to blame Morsi for the more general economic situation (he inherited massive debt, an electricity crisis, a subsidies crisis, etc.) but it is true that save from raising loans from Qatar and elsewhere he has done little to stem it — and indeed his profligate spending on civil service salaries has worsened things to some extent.

Read More

Wael Ghonim asks Morsi to step down

And the build-up to anti-Morsi protests in Egypt on June 30th continues... Here is a video message by world-famous activist Wael Ghonim, taking the Islamist president to task for allegedly breaking the promises he made a year ago. Translated transcript by Nour. 

In the name of God, the Merciful. Allah Almighty said: “And fulfill (every) covenant. Verily! The covenant will be questioned about.”
Last year during the runoff presidential elections, the then-presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi emerged with a number of pledges to the Egyptian people to win their votes. These promises did, in fact, make a difference for him  -- as evidenced by him winning the elections by a very small margin, thanks to many people, a great many of whom are now considered agents of the West and haters of religion. 
Three days after the elections, just like today, I attended the Fairmont (hotel) meeting with the president before the official result was announced, when the Muslim Brothers were afraid of forgery, and so decided to confirm their commitments to their promises. That day, the president promised us to be a president for all Egyptians, he promised to honor his campaign slogan: "Our strength, in our unity.”  But, unfortunately, a year later the slogan is now “Our strength, in our Brotherhood.” The president, that day, promised us to respect the opposition and shared decision-making, but (now) we find that we have replaced a ruling party that considered whoever opposes it to be a traitor and an agent with another ruling party that considers whoever opposes it to be a traitor, an agent and a hater of religion. The president at the Fairmont meeting promised retribution for (the killers) of those who died in the revolution, but what we have seen is that people are still dying under his rule. The youth that took to Tahrir Sq. to chant the day (Morsi) won -- their mothers are now crying with sadness, (grieving) their (youth’s) martyrdom when they took to (the streets) to oppose him. 
Read More

From ECFR: regional views on Syria

The European Council of Foreign Relations' website is hosting a roundtable of views from around the region on the Syrian conflict that's very much worth reading to get a hold of the complexity of its regional dimension.

Hassan Hassan starts off with what the Gulf states want:

The potential demise of the pro-Iranian regime in Damascus offers the Gulf states the possibility of extending their regional influence. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in particular, believe that a friendly regime in Syria will give them influence over Shia-dominated Baghdad, over whom they have had little sway, but which is seen as a critical player in the regional balance of power. Iraq’s post-2003 alliance with Iran is perceived as one of the key reasons. for Tehran’s growing regional influence over the past decade. A Sunni state in Syria could serve to strengthen currently marginalised Iraqi Sunni forces, giving them – and their Gulf backers – greater influence in Baghdad. At the same time, regime change in Damascus would help the Gulf states bolster their standing in Lebanon, already economically dependent on the Gulf, by strengthening pro-Sunni Gulf actors at the expense of the dominant pro-Assad Hezbollah movement. For the Gulf States, the Syria conflict is thus a critical battle for control of a key pivot state in the region. Drawing Damascus away from the Iranian camp is seen as a way of cementing broader regional influence in the Levant, and reestablishing the more favorable regional balance of power that they lost following the US occupation of Iraq in 2003.

And from Haydar al-Khoei's piece on the view from Iraq:

A diplomatic incident in Damascus sheds some light on how events in Syria are being seen by Baghdad. In the summer of 2011, the Qatari ambassador to Syria invited several Arab ambassadors as well as the Syrian foreign minister to his residence. Whilst sitting around the dinner table the Iraqi ambassador remarked, “The same people who conspired against Iraq are now conspiring against Syria.” This enraged the Saudi Arabian ambassador, who responded, “I dare you to name them. I dare you!” The Syrian foreign minister attempted to calm the situation by saying, “The Iraqi ambassador is referring to al-Qaeda and the Salafis, not Saudi Arabia,” but the undertone of the message was clear.

There's much more to read there - check it out. ECFR's latest report on Syria stakes out the wise position, in my view, that any alternative to diplomacy would be disastrous.