It is an illusion to believe that the Security Council, in its current state, could grant legitimacy to the overthrow of the Syrian regime. It is yet another illusion to think that the Arab League decision, even before it was vetoed by Russia and China at the Security Council, could change politics in Syria.
The key solution lies not in New York, but in two other locations; namely Cairo and Damascus. The Arab League could punish the Syrian regime, for the mass killings clearly committed against its civilians, by ousting it from the pan-Arab organization and granting the Syrian opposition the right to represent the country. The Arab League, and not the Security Council, is the one that can grant legitimacy to the opposition, and then other organizations will follow. This is what happened in the face of Saddam Hussein’s regime after the occupation of Kuwait, and this is what the Arab League did in reaction to the crimes committed by Gaddafi’s troops when quelling the rebellious Libyan cities.
It is not true that the League’s decision to transfer the matter to the Security Council, as some legal experts think, would permit the world to hunt the Syrian bear. On the contrary, the failure in New York has granted al-Assad the legitimacy to stay. Furthermore, it has given the Syrian regime extra weeks and months to carry on its killings and destruction, and sufficient time and legal controversy to maintain itself.
The failed decision was based on an Arab League plan that was already full of faults. It proposed for a government headed by both the regime and opposition, but it did not state what exactly was meant by “opposition”. Accordingly, this ambiguity means that the argument will drag on for months inside the corridors of the Arab League. Syria and its allies, Iran and Russia, have identified – by name – the opposition groups that they would be prepared to recognize, largely consisting of their loyalists.
Secondly, the Arab League plan didn’t adequately explain the responsibilities of the new government. For example who would run the defence, interior, foreign and finance ministries, and moreover who would be in charge of the intelligence agencies? This would take an eternity to resolve.
Even the text of the Arab plan was written in an ambiguous and contradictory manner. The Arab League stipulated that President al-Assad should transfer his powers to his deputy and, accordingly, relinquish his authority. In reality, this would not be the case. The written text states that “the President should delegate to his deputy full powers, in complete cooperation with a government of national unity, to carry out duties during the transitional period.” This effectively means that Bashar al-Assad would authorize his deputy to cooperate with the opposition in a power-sharing government. This is an authorization for the opposition to “cooperate”, not to rule the country.
The President of Syria holds very different powers to that of the government. The former is responsible for managing the security and military apparatus, while the government runs service ministries such as health, agriculture, transportation and so on. And after all this it is likely that the “government of national unity” would be comprised of individuals from the opposition who are affiliated to al-Assad anyway. But say I am wrong, and the Arab League and al-Assad together actually formed a power-sharing government with the real opposition, the question is still who would run what?
I believe the Arab League is being bullied by the supporters of the Syrian regime; namely governments like Algeria, Sudan and Iraq. It fears criticism due to the false campaign being mounted against any kind of international intervention, even though this saved the Libyan people. This is what happened in Cairo, where most Arab League members simply looked down and bowed to the amendments being made, which effectively blunted the Arab plan, and transformed it from a rope to hang the regime to a lifeline to save it, unfortunately.
The Arab League should expel al-Assad’s regime as a member state, as a first step, and it should explicitly support the Syrian people in their right to defend themselves. These two steps are enough to change the situation on the ground, and convince the international community to follow the path of the Arab League. Afterwards, Arab governments and organizations will find the means to confront the atrocities of the Syrian regime. Most Arab governments still have operating embassies in Damascus, and Bashar al-Assad’s ambassadors are still working as usual in their nineteen embassies across the Arab world. Bearing this in mind, how can the Security Council be expected to halt the al-Assad massacres?