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Arab League: Preparing for Syria After Assad

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By Basheer al-Baker
Al-Akhbar English
November 14, 2011

In a surprise vote last Saturday, the Arab League effectively suspended Syria’s membership in the organization. The decision appears to mark the beginning of a transitional period preparing Syrians for life after Assad.

Although it reflects a change in their position, the Arab League’s recent resolution regarding Syria did not come out of nowhere. It is the product of four months of negotiations and haggling over the situation in Syria.

From the beginning, the League insisted that it was working to help both the Syrian regime and the opposition to find a solution without recourse to the UN, by keeping it within the Arab house, as it were.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem, currently heading the ministerial committee on Syria, have maintained that the League’s aim is to prevent foreign intervention in Syria, so as not to repeat the Libyan scenario.

However, despite continued assurances that Syria is not Libya, many observers have begun to say that regardless of the differences between the two cases, there is nothing stopping the Syrian situation from playing out as it did in Libya.

Over the past month, it has become increasingly clear that the Arab states are taking up the Syrian case only to place it before before the UN under the banner of protecting civilians.

The Arab League’s resolution has not only violated the terms for suspending a member-state – which requires the agreement of all members – but it has further positioned the pan-Arab body as a side in the Syrian crisis. Paragraphs 2,3, and 6 of the resolution make this abundantly clear.

The resolution’s second paragraph aims to provide protection for Syrian civilians through Arab organizations, and “in the event that acts of violence and killing do not cease, the Secretary General [of the Arab League] will contact international organizations concerned with humans rights, including the UN…”

This paragraph clearly opens the door to internationalizing the crisis via the Arab League. It meets the calls of the Syrian opposition for “international protection,” and can be considered an open adoption of the Syrian National Council’s repeated demands that the Arab League bring the Syrian crisis to the UN Security Council.

The third paragraph asks “the Syrian Arab Army to not participate in acts of violence and killing against civilians.” On the surface, such a statement appears to stem from a purely humanitarian concern, but in so far as it calls for the soldiers to rebel, it gains importance in light of the growing number of Syrian military defections.

If the numbers cited Saturday by Ammar al-Wawi, an officer in the opposition Syrian Free Army, are correct, the number of defectors is increasing daily and has already reached 25,000.

The Arab League seems to be offering legal cover to defectors that could form a reliable base in some of the northern border regions close to Turkey, where it is said many soldiers who have left the army are gathering.

The sixth paragraph of Saturday’s resolution is the most important, since it is unprecedented in the history of the Arab League. It calls for “all sides of the Syrian opposition to meet at the Arab League headquarters within three days to agree upon a unified vision for the coming transitional period in Syria.”

This signifies that the Arab states have begun planning for the post-Assad era, talking about a “transitional period” rather than a mere solution to the crisis. This matter appears to be settled as far as the Arab League is concerned, and all that is left is to do is to agree with the opposition on the details and arrangements.

Until the Arab League’s November 16 suspension deadline arrives, there will be meetings in Doha and Cairo between opposition figures and Arab officials in order to work out a unified vision for what comes next. This step is intended to help build international consensus on a position towards Syria in the Security Council.

Many believe that the League’s acknowledgement of the Syrian opposition will begin the process of politically isolating the Assad regime, and may be followed by its embassies and missions being surrendered to the opposition.

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Written by Maidhc Ó Cathail

November 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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