As far as international, multi-lateral organizations go, the Arab League has always been something of a joke — and that’s saying a lot considering their competition.
But give the clowns their due; they finally bestirred themselves after 8 months of slaughter in Syria and suspended the Assad regime and recalled their ambassadors. For the past several months, they have done their best to avoid addressing the violence in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain while making pious pronouncements about “democracy” and pluralism.
Considering no Arab League states come close to practicing those beliefs in reality, their calls to end the violence were more hollow and ridiculous than usual. But little Qatar and the Saudis see the prospect of regional instability if Syria were to descend into civil war — a likely prospect now that there are thousands of armed army deserters who are taking sides against the regime — and they prodded the League to vote Syria’s suspension.
My FPM article today addresses the Syrian response to the League’s actions:
“You Arab leaders are the tails of Obama,” read a banner unfurled during the Damascus protest. Indeed, that has been the government line since the suspension was announced late last week. The Al-Thawra (revolution) newspaper was quoted as saying that the suspension and withdrawal of ambassadors was “almost identical to and a copy of U.S. instructions.” Al-Watan referred to the Arab League as the “Hebrew League” while the official news agency SANA quoted a prominent politician who said the suspension was tantamount to “declaring war” against Syria.
It is widely believed that Assad has called for the emergency Arab summit to stall for time - a luxury he no longer has. The only three member states to vote against Syria’s suspension were Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, all for varying reasons. Iraq fears a Sunni enemy on its borders if Assad is overthrown or otherwise departs. Yemen, suffering through its own version of the “Arab Spring,” fears similar action by the Arab League against President Saleh who, despite promising four times to leave office, hangs on to power while his country falls into civil war. And Lebanon has become a puppet of Syria since Hezbollah took over the government last spring.
But what must worry Assad the most is the loss of his good friend and ally, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. Turkey has been slow off the mark in punishing Assad for the brutal crackdown but Erdogan has finally come to the conclusion that Assad has to go. Erdogan had promised sanctions last month but events intervened to prevent their announcement - including an attack on Kurdish terrorists in Iraq and a devastating earthquake that demanded his attention.
But the Wall Street Journal reports that even though Erdogan has been cautious in moving toward full opposition to the Assad regime, Turkey now sees Assad as an impediment to its hegemonistic designs in the Middle East. The newspaper quotes Ilter Turan, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, who said, “As long as Assad is there, the road for Iran to extend its influence through the Middle East and the Mediterranean is open.” With both nations vying for power and influence in the region, knocking his former friend off his throne would mean that any new regime in Syria would almost certainly be less friendly to Tehran.
Three quarters of the Syrian population is Sunni Muslim and it is thought that even a pluralistic, secular government as a successor to Assad would pull back from aligning itself too closely with Shia Iran. The chances of that kind of government emerging from post-Assad Syria are exceedingly slim, however. Nowhere else in the Arab world has the “Arab Spring” led to any government except an Islamist one. And just recently, the Syrian opposition hosted Muslim Brotherhood cleric Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi in Qatar. Allowing the resurrection of the Muslim Brotherhood - nearly destroyed by Assad’s father Hafez in a series of brutal massacres during the 1980s - is a dangerous sign for the mostly idealistic secularists on the Syrian National Council.