The choice of Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, to spearhead the search for dialogue in the Syrian crisis comes as silver lining on a dark horizon. Interestingly, this is a common choice made by the UN and the Arab League [AL]. Annan will be assisted by an ‘Arab deputy’.
The joint UN-AL announcement said: “The Special Envoy [Annan] will provide good offices aimed at bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. He will consult broadly and engage with all relevant interlocutors within and outside Syria in order to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis, and facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.”
It sounded hopeful that a solution will be possible “through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.”
Annan brings to bear on the Syrian crisis vast experience in conflict management. He knows what bloodbath can happen in a civil war where the UN failed — Rwanda. More important, he also knows the horrific consequences of unilateralist foreign military interventions — Iraq. marked his distance from the US invasion of Iraq.
The UN has been sliding dangerously close to becoming an appendage of the western strategy of ‘regime change’ in Syria. Annan can regain for UN its lost repute.
Again, AL showed up that it alone doesn’t add up to anything. The choice is to play second fiddle to the Western powers, which, in turn, would only bring the AL into distress as the voice of Arabism. Egypt and Oman have taken a nuanced position on Syria. Iraq and Algeria oppose the Qatari-Saudi driven AL moves against the Syrian regime. The ‘expulsion’ of Syria from the AL leaves scars. Lebanon has serious reservations, too. Thus, AL is better off assisting Annan rather than spearheading independent initiatives.
The best scenario will be if the Syrian crisis lends itself to a Yemen-like solution with the UN as the mediator and the big powers arriving at a consensus.
One positive sign is that a key player, Turkey, may have become less passionate about intervening in Syria. The Turkish domestic opinion is divided and the secularist Kemalists warn against the spillover of the Syrian crisis into Turkey and about the far-reaching implications of the ascendancy of radical Islamists in the region. The Turkish military is also in some disarray after the bruises inflicted on the prestige of its leadership by the civilian government.
The hardline camp is essentially of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. [Jordan acts as their sidekick while israel has own axe to grind if Syria too gets weakened like Iraq and Egypt already.] On the other hand, rhe Saudis and the western powers (plus Israel) have a convergence of interests in weakening Iran’s alliance with Syria (and Lebanon), curbing its regional influence.
So, how will Annan tackle the hard nut — King Abdullah? The advent of democracy in Syria will frighten Abdullah. Iraq and Egypt have already moved into the democratic era. Yemen, too, is moving fast in that direction. If Syria moves into the democratic era, can bahrain be far behind? And, of course, with all its deficiencies, the Iranian system is indeed based on representative rule.
So, the spectre that is haunting Abdullah will be that the House of Saud will be holding out as a barren atoll surrounded by a sea of democracy. The Internet is fuelling the discontent in Saudi Arabia. The eastern provinces are in turmoil; middle class is restive; social contradictions are surfacing; the princes are becoming quarrelsome. Abdullah feels frightened. He is seeking out new friends and saviours.
To be sure, Annan has his job cut out for him. His mission actually goes beyond the Syrian crisis. It is also about salvaging the Arab Spring. By no means an easy mission.
Posted in Politics.
– February 24, 2012