Divided Arab League Won’t Call for al-Assad to Step Down

The Arab League is meeting in Baghdad for the first time in 22 years, in the absence of long-time fixtures such as Zein El Abidin Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen– all overthrown by the popular uprisings of 2011-12. Of the remaining two countries where there has been a substantial revolutionary movement, Syria has been suspended from Arab League membership, so that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will be discussed only in his absence. But Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy has succeeded in remaining diplomatically viable despite its crackdown on its own protesting crowds. In part, Bahrain is being treated differently because many Arab leaders code the Shiite protesters there as an Iranian fifth column.

Syria is among the most pressing items on the docket, and is an issue that has already divided and in some ways defeated the meeting. Saudi Arabia and Qatar wanted a resolution calling for al-Assad to step down in Syria and for arming the Syrian revolutionaries. Failing that, they wanted to invite members of the rebel parties to attend in Baghdad. Iraq rejected all these proposals. As a result, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, along with about half of the attending countries, are only sending ambassadors, not foreign ministers– a snub at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In the meantime, military operations continued in Syria, with regime troops storming Qalat al-Mandiq in Hama province. Some 40 persons are estimated to have been killed there in recent days.

The Arabic press is reporting leaks that the League will reject foreign military intervention in Syria, but will back Kofi Annan’s UN plan. It is also being rumored that the al-Maliki government is attempting to deflect a harder line on Syria by threatening to bring up as an agenda item the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Arab world. (For North Africa the discussion would concern Berbers, for Egypt Coptic Christians, for Saudi Arabia Shiite Muslims, etc.). Iraq is among the more multi-cultural of the Arabic-speaking states, with its Shiite majority and its large Kurdish minority, and so is in a position to lead a charge on the issue of minorities, one that would be extremely unwelcome to Sunni Arab-majority states. The problems of minorities are not irrelevant to the Syria crisis, since the religious minorities there are fearful of the secular Baath government being overturned by one dominated by Sunni Muslim fundamentalists. These fears are shared by al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

Euronews has a video report on the Arab League’s support for the United Nations plan for Syria, involving a call for a ceasefire and negotiations.

Since Syria has already verbally pledged to observe the UN plan (though there is no sign it is doing so), the Arab League adoption of the UN plan for Syria is not very forceful nor does it contain anything new. The Syrian regime is accused of killing thousands of protesters over the past year.

8 Responses

  1. “It is also being rumored that the al-Maliki government is attempting to deflect a harder line on Syria by threatening to bring up as an agenda item the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Arab world. (For North Africa the discussion would concern Berbers, for Egypt Coptic Christians, for Saudi Arabia Shiite Muslims, etc.).”

    can someone ask Mr. Maliki -who is a puppet of Iran- where the iraqi Christians are? What about the 8 to 10 million arabs living in Iran or in Arabistan-Iran?. I mean they are shias like Maliki. It`s kind of funny that a guy that has said in front of australian diplomats that he is first a shia, second an iraqi, third an arab and fourth a member of the dawa party. Such a guy want to speak about the rights of minorities?????

    • Number of Arabs in Iran is around 1-3 million ,moslty living in western part of Khuzestan. Even in Khuzestan most people are Persian or Lurs and also Turks. I know many of them personally.

  2. “The problems of minorities are not irrelevant to the Syria crisis, since the religious minorities there are fearful of the secular Baath government being overturned by one dominated by Sunni Muslim fundamentalists”

    As the secular Iraqi Baath Party was overturned by the shiite fundamentalist majority. It`s the same situation in syria like it was in Iraq.

  3. “The Syrian regime is accused of killing thousands of protesters over the past year.”

    Accused?

    The NY Times sent a reporter to Lebanon to interview Syrian refugees – thankfully, there still are real reporters, not just “bloggers” to ferret out the truth – and it describes a campaign of ongoing butchery. And now the latest twist: the regime is handing out weapons to its fellow travelers in the Alawite community, who are also reported to be firing upon their Sunni neighbors. If and when the regime falls, we shouldn’t be surprised by the coming backlash.

    Ladies and gents, where is the outrage? The incredibly hypocrisy continues.

    Link to NYTimes piece is here: link to nytimes.com

    • The first comment in the NYTimes article that you quote reads: “The American Media is intent on propaganda not news. Their role is to support the American govt’s versions of the events in the middle east and Syria as the west tries to reallign and reaarange the Middle east to serve their purpose and undermine the independence of governments.” I trust Juan’s expert opinion more than the accounts of a reporter.

      The problem with Syria is that it is not the story of good versus evil, similar to the situation in Iraq. However, the fact remains that most of the killings of the Shi’is and Christians in Iraq took place by Sunni militants who were unhappy of having lost their former position. Similarly in Syria, the Christians will be better off under Asad’s secular government than under a militant Wahhabi or Salafi government. The Alawites in Syria constitute only about 12 per cent of the population. If there is going to be the crackdown of minorities it would be by the Sunni majority against the Alawite minority, not vice versa. One has to condemn violence by any faction. The answer to the problems in Syria does not rest in a civil war or a sectarian conflict supported by Saudi Arabia and Iran, but in some form of reconciliation between the warring factions and arranging elections in the future to allow the Syrians to elect the government that they wish to have. Kofi Annan’s mission is the best last chance for ending the conflict.

    • That seems a bit of a stretch, as if the old regime would have supported the proposals.

      Tell me, if it’s hot in Iraq this August, will that, too, be the fruit of the US “victory?”

      • No, just the stink from all the corpses of 20 years of US policy, from 400,000 dead due to Bush-Clinton sanctions (which Albright admitted when she said it was worth it) to perhaps 1 million excess deaths on top of the already high sanctions-era death rate since the invasion.

        Add that to close to a million killed by our allies in Indonesia, 400,000 killed by our allies in Guatemala, 2 million killed by our foolish attempt to manufacture a fake country in Vietnam. A couple more major interventions and the historians of the future will have to struggle to explain to their students why the ten million killed with our support are different than the tens of millions killed by Hitler or Stalin. Then again, Britain seems to have gotten away with a lot of murder for a failed empire. I guess you just gotta have the right connections.

Comments are closed.