January 1, 2012

Slow Unraveling of Arab League’s Syrian Plot

The story is more dud than its bombshell headline. After witnessing another week of bloodshed occur right in front of (and behind) Arab League monitors, the organization’s parliamentary arm issued a scathing rebuke of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Upwards of 40 casualties were reported over the last 72 hours and al-Assad has yet to release political detainees as “promised,” escalating oppositional and Western pressure for new action.

"The mission of the Arab League team has missed its aim of stopping the killing of children and ensuring the withdrawal of troops from the Syrian streets, giving the Syrian regime a cover to commit inhumane acts under the noses of the Arab League observers," Ali Salim Al-Diqbasi, president of the Arabic Parliament, said in an interview from Kuwait.

His solutions were just as frank.

“The Arab League has only two options: Either quit the Syrian profile totally and refer it to the United Nations and the Security Council, or form an Arabic military force to confront the Syrian regime.”

al-Diqbasi’s hardline rhetoric sprinkled a cool mist over Syria’s hot battle-zones - at least someone in the Arab League is willing to state the truth. However parliament’s recommendations are non-binding and they will almost certainly be exploited in Syria’s case. The League’s overall behavior was succinctly defined by one involved official, who told The Associated Press that the bloc “wants regime change but at the lowest possible cost.”

“If the regime implements the removal of tanks and troops from the streets, 10 million Syrians will take to the streets and occupy all main squares, making the regime’s collapse a matter of time. Assad will never allow this, and the Arab League will be accused by more Syrians of complicity.”

Washington and its Western allies are currently locked into the same dilemma; both would like to see al-Assad’s regime removed, but not at the cost of regional instability. They also seek control through an international "mechanism." While the Arab League’s 4-point plan to withdraw Syrian troops from urban areas and add monitors is beginning to work in the opposition’s favor, the League’s complicity with al-Assad remains active. Beyond its chauffeured monitors, the bloc’s strategy is likely to proceed as advertised by Gulf media: denounce al-Assad’s crackdown, then call for “meaningful dialogue” with his regime.

Oppositional organization is critical to maintaining pressure on the League and UN.

The process of forming revolutionary leadership isn’t easy though, as The Washington Post reports. Instead of softening the line between Syria’s National Council (SNC) and National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), Friday’s “transitional” proposal triggered popular divisions within both networks. Among the criticisms: minimal local input and no call for international intervention. Both networks are trapped in a parallel dilemma with the international community: squeezing assistance out of a hesitant West.

With some quick political thinking, SNC member Rami Nakhle expected to salvage the political crisis by blocking it through the general assembly: “You can say that it is like the Syrian government signed an agreement and the people’s council refused it.”

This process, if successful, would provide a fitting juxtaposition to the Arab parliament’s impotence.

How the SNC and NCC react remains to be seen, but common sense dictates that they close ranks with their popular base. The two groups are cautious of international intervention, driving a wedge in oppositional streets, when they need more popular support to appease Western powers. A concrete plan must be formulated under the terms of intervention, such as assisting the Free Syrian Army and opening an international aid corridor.

Given the fluidity within each area of Syria’s uprising, a flashpoint could occur at any moment within the opposition, FSA, Arab League or UN. Syria’s opposition understands the need for unity amongst division, but practical and ideological demands generate an inevitably complex task. The more unified Syria’s opposition can stay amid a global counter-revolutionary network, the more likely they will succeed in bringing al-Assad’s regime down without wasting excess time.

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