The Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s membership is historic. This is the first communal stance that is in harmony with the entire atmosphere in the region. It also constitutes a shift in the Arab political discourse. A source in Cairo said that the ministerial committee invited Prince Saud al-Faisal to the meeting before entering the League’s hall even though Saudi Arabia is not a member of this committee. The committee apparently wanted to get Riyadh’s blessing.
Saudi Arabia’s stance in support of the decision is not surprising and anyone who goes back to the statements made by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz when the Syrian crisis had just started would find out that the kingdom called for the protection of civilians and the immediate halt of violence since the very beginning. In fact, it was from Saudi Arabia that the first Arab official stance on what was happening in Syria was issued.
Some doubted the Arab League’s seriousness as far as implementing the decision is concerned and considered the statement it issued to be in retaliation for the scornful way with which the Syrian regime treated the Arab initiative. However, a closer look reveals that the Arab League’s statement addressed the Syrian army directly and called upon its leaders to stop crushing protests. This is unprecedented in the history of the Arab League.
The statement also called for a meeting with the Syrian opposition to agree on a unified approach for the transitional stage, which shows that the Arab League is giving up on the Syrian regime. In addition, the statement pointed out that if the killing does not stop, the Secretary General will contact international organizations, including the United Nations, to set a plan for ways to stop the bloodshed. Therefore, the statement paves the way for the possibility of foreign intervention to solve the crisis.
There is no doubt that the position of the Arab League regarding the Syrian regime’s violent repression of its people is serious and it is obvious that Arabs are adamant on facing the crisis in Syria. Arab regimes have learnt the hard way from both the Iraqi and the Libyan experiences and they are now trying to spare Syria a foreign intervention in which Arabs will have no say. But will the Syrian opposition unite? This is an important question. Western countries do not offer services for free and this is the real challenge the Arab League is facing.
What is certain is that the Arab League has changed and so has Egypt. We all knew that the Arab League was another arm of Egyptian politics. What happened is reason for optimism for it demonstrates that Arabs, despite what happened and is happening, are holding on to their unity.
However, consensus over the suspension of Syria’s membership will become marginal if flees and warplanes start making a move. At that moment, there will be people who will protect Syria sovereignty and Arab identity and there will be others who will take advantage of this “cover” to make concessions like some did in Iraq. What tomorrow brings remains to be seen!
(The writer is Editor-in-Chief of AlArabiya.Net. This article was first published in al-Hayat on November 14, 2011 and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid.)