Arab League Sets Syria for Suspension

The Arab League initiated the suspension of Syria’s membership on Saturday, giving Damascus three days to cease shooting down Syrian demonstrators or else the country would be isolated, with AL members withdrawing their ambassadors and Syria losing its voting rights in the body.

Aljazeera English has video:

This step is the second taken this year by Arab League states against a member. In March, they called for the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya after the regime of Muammar Qaddafi deployed jets to attack civilian cities that had defied him, as Agence France Presse and Aljazeera among others reported. Some Libyan pilots defected to Malta rather than follow Qaddafi’s orders to bomb Benghazi, but numerous eyewitness reports show that other pilots followed those illegal orders, which were war crimes.

The government of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad had agreed on November 2 to pull troops out of cities where major protests were being held. Since then, according to Human Rights Watch [pdf] , Syria has killed one hundred demonstrators.

On Friday, the regime killed some 30 protesters, suffering the loss of 26 soldiers to militants in the process.

Eighteen of the 22 Arab League members voted for the measure. Lebanon and the Yemen voted against it, and Iraq abstained. Syria seems not to have gotten a vote.

Likely the decision to suspend Syria’s membership in this way was driven by two major considerations.

Egypt, Tunisia and Libya now lead a pro-democracy, pro-civil rights bloc within the Arab League. The new governments and their people view Bashar al-Assad as a clone of overthrown dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and they want him gone.

A second bloc is driven by two considerations:

1) Largely Sunni Arab countries are receiving strong pressure from their own citizens to do something about the minority Allawite regime in Syria shooting down Sunni protesters. (This depiction of the situation is an over-simplification, but many Jordanians, Saudis and Moroccans believe it).

2) Syria is Iran’s major ally in the Arab world, though Iraq is increasingly close behind it in this regard. The Gulf Cooperation Council Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman) are alarmed by the rise of Iranian influence in the Arab world, and so would have voted to expel Syria so as to weaken Iran.

The flip side is that Iran’s other allies in the Arab League either voted against the measure or abstained.

Pro-Regime mobs attacked the Saudi and Qatari embassies in Damascus when the decision was announced.

The step does not have much real teeth, but it is an important symbolic action, and will further isolate Syria in the world community. Bashar al-Assad should take a lesson from Libya.

Posted in Syria | 13 Responses | Print |

13 Responses

  1. Double standard as always.
    Esplain this to me, bombing your civilian from the air is a no no, AL and U.n gets right on it.
    But shelling your civilian from the ground level is ok with eveyone as long as u.s is behind you to support your action like in Yeman.
    What about in bahrain? all peacefull and look at casualty percentage wise, no peep. Because u.s support it.

    And about syria, what business u.s had to tell opposition not to turn in their weapon after last week A.L peace deal?

    I know they are all evil to their population, but certainly there are two types, one that opposes u.s and must go. The other which u.s supports and must stay to carry on by all means.
    Double standard.
    BTw: Look at your last report on casualty ratio 30 to 26 go figure all not kosher there

  2. Dear Professor Cole

    I suspect it is important not to raise the hopes of Syrians too high, particularly of military intervention. (i agree I have read your previous piece on the inadvisability of intervention. beware of mission creep)

    We need to bear in mind the horrible consequences of causing the Marsh Arabs to rise against Saddam Hussein.

    Lying awake at night thinking to onseself “Dear God. What have I done?” is not a pleasant experience.

    United States also played a role in encouraging the uprisings, which were then controversially not aided by the U.S. forces present on Iraqi soil.

    The revolts in the Shia-dominated southern Iraq involved demoralized Iraqi Army troops and the anti-government Shia parties, in particular the Islamic Dawa Party and Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Another wave of insurgency broke out shortly afterwards in the Kurdish populated northern Iraq; unlike the spontaneous rebellion in the South, the uprising in the North was organized by two rival Kurdish party-based militias: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and some long-term planning had taken place.”

    “Although they presented a serious threat to the Iraqi Ba’ath Party regime, Saddam managed to suppress the rebellions with massive and indiscriminate force and maintained power. They were ruthlessly crushed by the loyalist forces spearheaded by the Iraqi Republican Guard and the population was successfully terrorized[dubious – discuss]. During the few weeks of unrest tens of thousands of people were killed. Many more died during the following months, while nearly two million Iraqis fled for their lives. In the aftermath, the government intensified the forced relocating of Marsh Arabs and the draining of the Iraqi marshlands, while the Allies established the Iraqi no-fly zones”.

    • 3500 people have been killed by the regime in Syria. To compare the few dozen in Bahrain to this is a make mockery of humanitarian concern.

      I’m no absolutist when it comes to sovereignty, but this type of international intervention, even political intervention, into the internal politics of a country should be reserved for only the most serious cases. The Arab League, the UN, NATO, France, the US, and other outside powers can’t be sticking their noses in every time a government misbehaves; I suspect you can explain the downside to foreign intervention as well as I can. Only in the worst cases might these drawbacks be outweighed by potential benefits. So far, it is only in Libya and Syria that the humanitarian crises have risen to the point where the intervention cure might not be worse than the disease.

      • it might be easier to intervene in Bahrain than in Syria, if there were the will to do so. But the US could influence Bahrain without violating their sovereignty. The US could stop selling them arms and move the 5th fleet. Do you suggest we ignore the few dozen because there are larger problems ? Syria may not have an easy solution right now. But why not do those things that are doable? If those who could saved a few dozen lives every time they could, the numbers would add up quikly.

  3. By taking a lesson from Libya, I assume you mean that Bashar ought to get out while the gettin’s good. But where might he go where he might feel (a) reasonably safe and secure, and (b) out of the reach of the ICC? Who would host him? Maybe Iran? But would he be content, as a suppose secular Baathist, to live under the umbrella of a religious Islamist regime in a predominantly Persian milieu? Maybe Iraq, where Maliki has been supportive of a quasi-Shia ruling family? But would Maliki’s already conflicted political supporters look kindly on sheltering a Baathist? Or would Hafez’s conflicts with Saddam years ago trump the Baathist connection?

    And can you imagine how Obama/Clinton – and their detractors – react to Maliki sheltering Bashar?

    • Back to London. I don´t think he´d want to live in the sticks in a third-world-country (imagine Mr. Football-player-Qaddafi-son in one of the 10 poorest countries of the world right now).
      If I were him, I would have resigned as long as there still was a chance to resume a peaceful civilian´s life in a country with urban culture. I don´t think much of what we see is actually his work: I think he is a puppet of his dad´s cronies.

  4. Mr. Cole,
    You may wish to double check the voting results.
    Sudan voted for.
    Lebanon and Yemen voted against.
    Iraq abstained.
    Voting for: 18.

  5. Assad still has Russia, China and Iran behind him. Don’t expect him to back off any time soon.

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