“Let’s Call Bashar’s Bluff” by Reinoud Leenders

Let’s Call Bashar’s Bluff
By Reinoud Leenders
Guest Opinion Piece

Those who say that the Arab League initiative on Syria is already dead and buried, as could have been expected from anything generated by this dysfunctional and toothless ‘talk shop’, can and should be proven wrong. True, nothing tangible was achieved after the Arab League on 2 November committed the Syrian regime to withdrawing its military from restive cities, releasing political prisoners and starting a national dialogue on democratic reforms. Instead the violence escalated, with security forces and tanks besieging and killing protestors across the country including in Homs, now declared a “humanitarian disaster area” by the oppositional Local Coordinating Committees of Syria. Indeed, President Bashar al-Assad’s true intentions to accept the initiative deserve to be looked at with great scepticism as it gains him some time, confronts the already divided opposition with the unattractive option to dialogue with his brutal regime, and allows the latter to heap blame for further violence on terrorists, armed insurgents and even the U.S. With the Syrian uprising going into its eight month, and despite all good intentions of the Arab League, the death toll has reached 3,500, according to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.

Consequently, talk of international military intervention to stop the regime’s atrocities has resumed, while at least some members of the Arab League appear to consider expelling Syria from the organization for not living up to its commitments. In Western capitals efforts are put into designing yet another wave of sanctions, on top of the ones already in place since May this year. The problem is that such proposed measures are at best only generating a sense of moral satisfaction among Syria’s critics, but they are unlikely to do the job. They won’t stop the bloodshed or remove the regime before the killing may reach the apocalyptic proportions of the early 1980s, or even worse. Respectively, after NATO’s Libya intervention there are no enthusiastic candidates to fly sorties over Hama or Homs while Russia and China are there to kill the idea if there were. Losing Arab League membership, given the organization’s dismal record, although resented, won’t cause the regime to lose much sleep. More sanctions may only have an effect in the long run, indeed when the revolutionary momentum is dead or a protracted insurgency may have made any dreams of a democratic transition for the country all but irrelevant.

So what will Arab league delegates at their scheduled meeting for coming Saturday, 12 November, possibly discuss? If it is going to be business as usual, the Qataris, who called for the meeting, will add their voice to the growing chorus of condemnation for the Syrian regime’s insincerity and brutality. Others may privately echo some of the options above, without addressing their futility. The U.S. and Europe, for their part, will feel vindicated in their position, hammered home at every possible occasion, that the Syrian regime simply has to go. But the Cairo meeting doesn’t have to go into history as yet another spasm of obsolete Arab unity or, for that matter, as another marker of marking the international community’s selective record on the ‘responsibility to protect’. This, however, would require the Arab League, the U.S. and Europe to change gear now.

Let’s call the Syrian regime’s bluff and bring the Arab League initiative to the UN Security Council. Yes, the same Security Council that thus far failed to agree on any initiative or words of significance pertaining to the Syrian crisis thanks mainly to Russian and Chinese obstructionism. Here the Arab League’s chief Nabil al-Arabi should politely but firmly express his organization’s concern that ‘the parties involved unfortunately cannot agree on an effective mechanism to verify compliance’. The US and Europe then could tell the Russians and the Chinese: ‘This is what your friends in Damascus and the Arabs agreed on, so let’s take this seriously, and let’s see what the UN can do to add its authority and assistance to this fully Arab initiative. Besides, haven’t you both also been recently calling on the Syrian government to initiate and expedite serious reforms? In fact, let’s improve and bolster the Arab League initiative, firmly remaining within its spirit, not in the least by explicitly recognizing the right to peaceful demonstrations and include effective (Arab) monitoring mechanisms.’ Nodding to Syrian regime concerns, a cessation of violence would also have to apply to army defectors loosely gathered in the Free Syrian Army, which two days after the Arab League initiative announced it would intensify its attacks in response to relentless regime violence. This package, then, would have to be voted on within the Security Council as the Arab League-endorsed and -led UN answer to the Syrian crisis. To the Syrian regime, always insisting on its ‘exceptionalism’, it will be a clear signal that Syria will be no second Libya, and that it is a partner in a solution, not a pariah on its way out. That, of course, will trouble the opposition. But while Syrian protestors’ calls for international intervention, vaguely defined or understood, have grown louder, time has come to acknowledge that there isn’t going to be much more on offer for them in this respect. Even if this joint Arab League – UN effort will fail, the Syrian regime’s ties with China and Russia to have greatly suffered as a result. That would leave the regime in an even more uncomfortable situation of splendid isolation, only left with Iran.

Reinoud Leenders is assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and co-editor (with Steven Heydemann) of Comparing Authoritarianisms: Reconfiguring Power and Regime Resilience in Syria and Iran, (Forthcoming).

Comments (711)

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701. Tara said:


Consequences to my prediction in case Bashar does not comply:

Syria will be expelled from the AL, most Arab Ambassadors will leave Damascus ( except for Iraq, Algeria?, and Yeman?). Arab sanctions will take place. Erdogan will visit Hatay and announce sanctions. The killing will continue. The case will be referred to the UNSC. Russia will eventually budge but may not. The Turks will establish a 10 km buffer zone, Bengazi-style. Turkey will not refuse. Weapons will be abundant. More defection will occur and armed struggle will ensue between all armed Alawis supporting Bashar and the defected All Sunni FSA. And voilà, Bashar will enter history as Neron who burned Rome. He will eventually die like Quaddafi.

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November 15th, 2011, 5:40 pm


702. zoo said:

SNC fails to gain backing from Russia
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
MOSCOW/DAMASCUS – Agence France-Presse
Burhan Ghalioun, heading Syrian opposition delegation, attends a

The exiled Syrian opposition on Tuesday failed to convince Moscow to toughen its stance against the regime of defiant leader Bashar al-Assad, the leader of the Paris-based dissident delegation said.

Members of the largest and most representative Syrian opposition grouping, the Syrian National Council — led by its head Burhan Ghalioun — travelled to Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We have asked several times (that Russia pushes for the resignation of Assad), but the Russians responded that even the Arab League does not demand this,” Ghalioun said as translated from Arabic to Russian.

“We told our Russian colleagues that to make the start of the talks possible we believe it is necessary for Russia and the international community to send an important signal and demand Bashar al-Assad’s resignation,” Ghalioun said after the talks at the Russian foreign ministry.

But Lavrov “did not make any concrete propositions,” he said.

“We want the crisis to be overcome,” he said, stressing that Assad’s departure is a priority. “And we would like this without military interference from the outside.”

The United States Monday welcomed a strengthening of an international drive against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the Arab League and the EU piled on the pressure.

“We’re going to continue to consult not only with the Arab League, but also with the EU and our other partners as we move forward in trying to find ways to increase the pressure on Assad,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

He added that “the international community, the US, the EU, the Arab League, individual states like Turkey, (are) taking stronger and stronger stances against what’s going on in Syria.”

Meanwhile, more than 70 people died in one of the bloodiest days of Syria’s eight-month uprising, activists said Tuesday, as President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists reacted angrily to growing isolation.

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November 15th, 2011, 5:43 pm


703. Tara said:

Bronco @698

I think they are playing with words waiting for the AL to say it first as they are afraid of a negative impact on the opposition in the context of the Arabic mentality that is quick in takhween.

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November 15th, 2011, 5:43 pm


704. zoo said:

Arab world fears a bloody internal showdown
Mehmet Ali Birand – mab@hurriyet.com.tr

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I am writing this from Dubai where I stopped on my way back from vacation. When I opened the newspapers in front of me, the situation became clear. When you are far away, you cannot get the same impression. The moment you open “Gulf papers,” you recognize the graveness of the situation.

The Sunni Arab world is concerned. The steps taken by Iran on the way to building a nuclear bomb have been seen for a long time around here as an open Shiite threat. Nowadays, with Washington’s provocation, concerns have intensified.

Two fronts have been built: The Shiite front (Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas) and the Sunni (Saudi Arabia-Egypt-Gulf countries-Palestine-Jordan) front.

Iran’s becoming a nuclear power scares the Sunnis a lot. This fear is good for the United States. Nowadays, Washington is both trying to change the regime in Syria, as it is considered to be the weakest link in this chain, and arming the Sunnis against Iran. If the Syrian regime is toppled then the Hezbollah-Hamas ties will be easier to break. They can kill two birds with one stone this way.

On one hand, Iran will be isolated. It will be easier to strike, while the Sunnis will be freed of their concerns; on the other, pressure on Israel will be eased. Yet, however, the credibility of the U.S. is down to its lowest levels in the region. Even pulling out of Iraq won’t save Washington. It is pretty obvious it is leaving Iraq in a worse state than it was before. Despite this, there is no other power to fill in for the U.S.

The latest developments show that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has been slowly driven into a corner in the Arab world. But still, nobody has a specific idea on who would replace him. If Assad does not make a firm “U-turn,” then his situation will get even tougher in the coming months.

Turkey’s ‘tough power’ (military and economic) not enough

Turkey is being observed very carefully in the region, but no one thinks it will yet use its military power in a way to affect the balances. We have an image suggesting that it is dubious that we will do anything beyond what our “soft power” (cultural and social power) allows us to do. Quite simply, the widespread belief is that Ankara will not go beyond politics and dialogue.

Erdoğan is applauded on the streets, he is carried on shoulders, but the decision-making powers in the Arab countries have doubts about Turkey. Ankara’s true intentions are being questioned. It is being debated whether it is sub-contractor for Washington.

Despite all this, the Sunni world sees Turkey right beside them, and they are content with this.

Let us be prepared. The Middle-East will be overwhelmingly stirred in the coming period. The disturbances of this time will definitely be unlike any other of the past. Nobody will be able to manage a possible Shiite-Sunni fight. It will again be Westerners that benefit from such a situation.

Ankara’s major concern is this anyway.

Erdoğan is warning Iran at every opportunity about its nuclear program. He tries to calm the Saudis. But, regardless of what is being done, we are facing a situation where it is as if the Arabs are getting ready to scratch each others’ eyes out; Western powers, meanwhile, don’t want to miss the opportunity.

© 2011 Hurriyet Daily News
URL: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=arab-world-fears-a-bloody-internal-showdown-2011-11-15

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November 15th, 2011, 5:46 pm


705. bronco said:

Tara #701

You are probably right about their waiting for the AL to say it.
We’ll know tomorrow if the AL would dare say it. In my opinion they won’t.

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November 15th, 2011, 5:49 pm


706. bronco said:

#699 Tara

“And voilà, Bashar will enter history as Neron who burned Rome. He will eventually die like Quaddafi.”

You forgot to mention small details that are not of your concern since you live outside Syria:
This will probably end in 2026 with Damascus, Aleppo and other cities in ruins and hundred thousands of dead.

Fortunately Qatar and Turkey will be in charge of rebuilding the country.

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November 15th, 2011, 6:08 pm


707. zoo said:

Is Egypt is changing?

Elmahdy: Egypt’s Nude Rebel
By: Muhammed Shuair
Published Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda hits back at sexist comments attacking her after posting nude pictures of herself on the web.

Cairo – Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy might enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of hits on her arabic blog Memoirs of a Revolutionary blog http://arebelsdiary.blogspot.com, that went from 10,000 to 110,000 visitors within two days.

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November 15th, 2011, 6:25 pm


708. Tara said:


No Bronco. I am a better person that you may think I am. I get angry and at times wish Bashar an eye for an eye especially when i watch how ordinary Syrians being degraded by ugly Syrians but I am not revengeful. I am sorry if I sound “insensitive” to this small detail. The truth is my daughter was tugging on my arm wanting me to do something for her so I ended short. As I was pressing “submit comment”, I had a feeling that your “politely critical” post is coming. I hope and pray civil war will never happen and no one get killed.

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November 15th, 2011, 6:27 pm


709. Dale Andersen said:

From the Jew/CIA/EU/Saudi/al Qaeda/Salafi Press:

“…Turkey is considering the possibility of deploying troops in Syria to create a buffer zone in the country’s north if the situation deteriorates. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group, announced on Thursday that ‘the Syrian people would react more calmly to an intervention by Turkey rather than by the West, if its actions are aimed at protecting civilians in Syria.’…”


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November 18th, 2011, 3:06 pm


710. kiara said:

tara ..how u can talk abt sunni and shia conflicts? we speak abt politic and interest and i dont think that Hamas is a shia..so how do u explain the axis that u wrote above Hamas Hezb syria and iran? .here we are fight for power no religion… please

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November 25th, 2011, 7:25 am


711. Ayman Salama said:

In light of the recent statement issued by the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva , calling for the referral of Syrian President to the Chief Prosecutor of the I.C.C in the Hague

I would like to legally revise and expound a bit on this important statement :

1- The international community bears a responsibility to protect unarmed Syrian civilians under SC and GA different Resolutions that had been initiated in 2001 and till the last two resolutions 1970 and 1973 in Feb this year concerning the situation in Libya

2- The only competent body that can refer the situation ( and not Bashar ) in Syria to the Chief Prosecutor of the I.C.C in the Hague is the SC UN under Rome Statute of the I.C.C.

3- The referral of the situation in Syria should be adopted under Chapter 7 of UN Charter with no Veto from any permanent member of the SC UN

4- It is indispensable to highlight the urgent measures that might be adopted to protect civilians in Syria in light of the previous experience of the UNPROFOR in Bosnia in 1995 when the UN Forces safeguarded and protected 6 cities there which were called save heavens .

5 – There are other various measures to be adopted in this regard

Best wishes

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December 2nd, 2011, 7:39 am


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