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Arab League

League Action Reflects Regional Rivalry

Image Credit: Illustration: Dana A.Shams/©Gulf News
By Ramzy Baroud, Special to Gulf NewsAccording to various media commentators, the rapid Arab League mobilisation against Syria is proof of the organisation rising to an urgent collective responsibility against impending dangers. However, such an assumption is either misguided or misconstrued.The so-called Arab Spring has largely been credited for the League’s actions. While the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen have indeed introduced a new factor — the people — that will affect any future political trends in Arab and Middle Eastern countries, it is misleading to claim that the League has been empowered by such a collective movement.

The ability to champion decipherable foreign policy shifts could only follow fundamental shifts in the political attitudes of such consequential member states as Egypt, which, frankly, are yet to take place.

While the League’s new-found power might not be a reflection of a genuine desire to assume a leadership role, it is at least a fretful response to the court of Arab public opinion. “Gone are the days when Arab leaders could act with total disregard for their people’s opinions,” wrote Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Public opinion throughout the Arab world resoundingly disapproved of Gaddafi’s behaviour, and now of [Bashar] Al Assad’s. This sentiment is motivating Arab leaders to respond to their people’s anger, through the Arab League” (CNN.com, December 1).

But why are such enthusiastic actions confined to Libya and Syria, which have been decidedly demonised by western powers? Surely Danin realises that Arab popular opinion is not exclusively focused on these two nations. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was hardly on Arab public opinion radar, and few seemed concerned with Al Assad’s domestic policies before his regime’s crackdown on protesters. The latter had, in fact, garnered many fans throughout Arab countries owing to his support of the Hezbollah, which has twice defeated Israeli military designs in south Lebanon.

A quick overview of history may be useful here.

The League, since it was founded in 1945 by merely six Arab countries, shifted its allegiance to any centre of power that happened to dominate the Arab world. When Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser sat on the throne of Arab nationalism, the League seemed anti-colonial to the core, locking horns with the most powerful western countries on behalf of Arab nations seeking independence.

Palestine became the rallying cry of Arabs, as League members didn’t hesitate to use military and economic might to help Palestinians achieve freedom.

When Egypt’s far less popular president Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David agreement with Israel in 1978, the League still possessed a semblance of resolve. League members rejected both Sadat and his undemocratic initiative, which disjointed the ‘Arab front’ and once again shifted the centre of power elsewhere.

In later years, the League became devoid of any real value as a political institution. Its overriding political objectives — of unity and economic integration — faded into oblivion.

The League’s response to Libya and Syria cannot be explained by the Arab Spring, but there are some other signs that point to an explanation. A major clue can be found in the League Summit held in Damascus on March 29, 2008, which reflected the deep chasm dividing the Arabs.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia sent low-level representatives to attend the conference, while others boycotted the summit altogether. Points of contention between competing Arab camps included Syria’s role in Lebanon and Iran’s influence in the region. Al Assad, who saw his country as the engine that would steer the Arab fold back to its days of glory under Nasser, had, more or less, a free podium to present a new vision of the Arab world.

Gaddafi, on the other hand, had one of his freest platforms to express ideas almost never communicated on a stage defined by tedious formalities and little action.

In addition to criticising the Arabs for doing nothing as the US invaded and destroyed Iraq, Gaddafi asked:  “Where is the Arabs’ dignity, their future, their very existence? Everything has disappeared … Our blood and our language may be one, but there is nothing that can unite us … We hate each other, we wish ill of each other and our intelligence services conspire against each other. We are our own enemy” (as reported by Al Jazeera and cited by Bridget Johnson in About.com).

Gaddafi, no saint by any standard, paid heavily for his intransigence — with a Nato war coupled by enthusiastic League approval and participation. No surprises here. Al Assad, whose crackdown on Syrian protesters has been harrowing to say the least, is also facing the wrath of the League.

Interestingly, aside from its response to Syria and Libya, the League still remains as irrelevant as ever. For example, on November 29, the UN-designated International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the League’s Secretary-General Nabeel Al Arabi said: “Israel’s disregard for international law, public opinion and human rights conventions is far beyond all limits” (Middle East Monitor. December 1). True, but this indignation remains confined to press releases and fiery statements. If ‘Arab public opinion’ was indeed of much concern, the League would have pushed the issue of Palestine with all of its might and resources.

The fact is, the activation of the League will not endure. It is a temporary renewal aimed at realising regional policies, punishing or isolating old foes, and ultimately redrawing the centres of powers in the region. This largely resembles its behaviour following the second Gulf war in 1990-91.

The so-called Arab Spring has really done little to truly revolutionise the political institution, which continues to tread between its members’ own political ambitions and outside influences and pressures.

– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. (This article was originally published in Gulf News – www.gulfnews.com)

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The “Half-men” respond to the Boy-king

Nov 12

Posted by OFF THE WALL

In 2006, and during the Israeli war on Lebanon, Bashar Al-Assad, claiming leadership of the Arab resistance camp, and using the popularity of Hizbullah’s struggle against Israel to burnish his own image, called Arab leaders “half-men”. Whether that was on the minds of the 18 foreign ministers who voted yes for the suspension of the participation of the Syrian delegation in all of the league’s activities and meetings remain to be found by those who write books of political intrigue and personalities. For now, it is clear that the Syrian regime thought that its policy makers are smarter than the “Bedouins” and has underestimated their resolve and intelligence.

The Chair of the meeting today, Qatar’s foreign minister outlined the decision in 7 points. Here they are in Arabic, then in English:

نص البيان

أولا :نظرا لعدم التزام سوريا بالتنفيذ الكامل والفوري للمبادرة العربية قررنا تعليق مشاركة الوفود السورية في انشطة الجامعة العربية لحين تنفيذ دمشق المبادرة العربية.

ثانيا: توفير الحماية للمدنيين السوريين بالاتصال الفوري
بالمنظمات المعنية بما فيها الأمم المتحدة ، في حين عدم توقف اعمال العنف والقتل.

ثالثا: دعوة الجيش العربي السوري للامتناع عن التورط في اعمال القتل والعنف ضد المدنيين.

رابعا: توقيع عقوبات اجتماعية واقتصادية على الحكومة السورية
في حال عدم الالتزام.

خامسا: دعوة دول الجامعة العربية لسحب سفرائها من دمشق ، مع الاخذ في الاعتبار ان هذا القرار سيادي.

سادسا: دعوة جميع اطراف المعارضة للاجتماع في مقر الجامعة خلال 3 أيام للاتفاق على رؤية موحدة لمرحلة انتقالية في سوريا ، ويقرر ما يراه مناسب للاعتراف بالمعارضة السورية.

سابعا: بقاء المجلس الوزاري العربي في حالة انعقاد دائم لحين متابعة الموقف.

Text of the Statement from the Arab League Ministerial Committee

  • First: Due to lack of commitment from Syria to the full and immediate implementation of the initiative, we have decided to suspend the participation of Syrian Arab delegations in the activities of the Arab League until  Damascus implements the Arab initiative
  • Second: Provide protection to Syrian civilians through the prompt contact with relevant organization including the United Nations as long as there is no halt to violence and murder
  • Third: Call on the Syrian Arab Army to abstain from being involved in the killing and violence against civilians
  • Fourth: Initiate social and economic punitive measures against the Syrian government in case of lack of commitment
  • Fifth: Calls on all Member States of the Arab League to withdraw their Ambassadors from Damascus, while remaining cognizant that this is a sovereign decision.
  • Sixth: Call on all sides of the opposition to meet in the League’s headquarters within three days to agree on a unified vision for a transition phase in Syria and for the council to decide on what it sees as appropriate in the matter of recognition of the Syrian opposition .
  • Seventh: Maintain the Ministerial Council in permanent session to follow up on the situation.

Some of my own thinking about the 7 items:

First: Due to lack of compliance from Syria to the full and immediate implementation of the initiative, we have decided to suspend the participation of Arab delegations in the activities of the Arab League until the Damascus implements the Arab initiative

While this is not a suspension of Syria’s membership in the League, it is still significant step. In addition, the Arab league here puts the blame squarely in the regime’s court. It is Assad’s regime who failed, willingly to comply with the league’s initiative, even after it was modified to address the regime’s request. The league also indicates that its members consider the statement delivered earlier by the Assad’s ambassador to the league as disingenuous attempt at gaining more time and they said no.

Second: Provide protection to Syrian civilians through the prompt contact with relevant organization including the United Nations as long as there is no halt to violence and murder

This is a very important item. It is the mechanism through which the architects of the AL initiative hope to regain momentum in the UN for the Syrian issue after the Russian and Chinese block. They now have mandate from the AL to bring Syria’s non-compliance with an initiative it signed on to UN Security Council.  The Russian and Chinese Ambassadors to the UNSC will now be in a bind, especially after their own governments have called on Syria to start implementing real reform and to put an end to the bloodshed nearly two months ago after the first attempt at UNSC. What will be the outcome at the UNSC is still undetermined and it will depend a lot on the outcome of other steps in this recent decision by the Arab League.

Third: Call on the Syrian Arab Army to reject being involved in the killing and violence against civilians

I did not expect this one. It came as a surprise and an incredible moral boost. It is a direct call by the Arab league to the Syrian Army to revolt against the thugs who are forcing its members to become involved in the killing of their own country people. It is also a warning that soldiers and officers engaged in such murders will be liable in the future.  This is a call for disobedience that will resonate and should be used to the hilt by the opposition.  However, I would caution against this call being considered a recognition by the AL of the FSA as a legitimate liberation force. Such will depend again on what the opposition does in the next 72 hours (by now 66 hours).

Fourth: Initiate social and economic punitive measures against the Syrian government in case of lack of commitment

No more invitation for Syrian Ambassadors to receptions held in Arab embassies worldwide. No more direct communication with Assad and his inner circle, and a halt to any investment or development project with increasingly tight economic sanctions. It is likely that an increased scrutiny of bank accounts will ensue and things will get uglier for the regime’s big fishes.

Fifth: Calls on all Member States of the Arab League to withdraw their Ambassadors from Damascus, while remaining cognizant that this is a sovereign decision.

Again, this is a clear call for complete isolation. It is unlikely to be followed by all countries and it may take time to implement, but it also gives impetuous for other countries who are not members of the AL to withdraw their ambassadors in recognition of the legitimacy of the AL. Given the hysteria on Syrian media, I expect that several embassies will soon be closed to protect the staff. Continuing insult of members of the league will accelerate the process. You can count on the Syrian regime, its trumpets, and media, to do the job.

Sixth: Call on all sides of the opposition to meet in the League’s headquarters within three days to agree on a unified vision for a transition phase in Syria and for the council to decide on what it sees as appropriate in the matter of recognition of the Syrian opposition 

This is one huge nail in the regime’s coffin. It is also the most serious challenge to the opposition. Some elements in the internal opposition will now face a new reality. If they want to claim legitimacy as part of the opposition, they will have to work within the framework now adopted by the league including the possibility of UNSC decision, and the clear admonition of Assad’s army. No longer can some play both sides since the AL has defined the parameters. The dialog is now defined as being a dialog within the opposition to identify a unified vision for the inevitable transition phase, which does not include the regime in the discussion. The league’s ministers probably intentionally put in a very short time to force the opposition into the table without allowing for maneuvering and to force them to identify commonality rather than bicker and get into backstabbing deals. This will filter the opposition and force fake opposition into the open where they have to declare their loyalty to the maintenance of this dead man walking regime. Recognition of the opposition by the AL opens doors to recognition by many more countries in waiting.

Seventh: Maintain the Ministerial Council in permanent session to follow up on the situation.

They’ll be watching

For now, we’ll be watching this. Thanks to CSI-HAMA once more.

[youtube http://youtu.be/0S9ATYn28_Y?]

[youtube http://youtu.be/OI7-CcUguUY?]

Syria Eid protests

[youtube http://youtu.be/dk4h86VMHf0?]

Al Jazeera’s Nisreen el Shamayleh reports from the Jordanian capital Amman on the protest that took place there in support of the Syrian people.

Syria remains in Arab League

[youtube http://youtu.be/rBbd9ShqE_Q?]

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