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Al-Assad hanging in the balance | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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What is certain today after the Arab stances and decisions issued last Sunday in Cairo following the Arab ministerial meeting is that the fate of Damascus’s tyrant now hangs in the balance, but who will come to his aid? Bearing in mind that Sunday’s events, whether the stances or decisions, have many important implications.

There was the courageous and responsible Saudi stance, represented by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, with his meeting with the Syrian opposition and afterwards his highly significant speech that he made at the Arab League meeting, in which he prioritized important points above mere rhetoric, especially when he responded to al-Assad’s attack on the Arab states by saying: “is it in the Arab nature for a ruler to kill his own people?”. The other significant matter is the new Arab initiative towards Syria, which means that in reality, the tyrant of Damascus is now caught between the blades of the scissors: the Arab initiative stipulates his removal from power, and if he rejects this it means that matters will be pushed to the Security Council. The irony here is that the Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, remarked that this new initiative is similar to the Gulf initiative for Yemen. Yet this was an initiative that Doha withdrew from, and labeled a failure, and here I say it is ironic because Sheikh Hamad today is engaged in a similar initiative with Syria, on the day that Ali Abdullah Saleh is finally leaving Sana’a!

However, this is not the subject of the discussion. What is important about the new Arab initiative towards Syria is that it makes provisions for dialogue, a new constitution, and parliamentary and presidential elections, under Arab and international supervision, with specific dates and deadlines, as soon as al-Assad hands over power to his deputy, Farouk al-Sharaa. It is important that this initiative came about through an Arab consensus, albeit with Algerian reservations to transfer matters to the Security Council – which would mean the inevitable internationalization of the issue and despite Lebanon distancing itself from the initiative. In reality, Lebanon distanced itself from the Arab world ever since its government became the government of Hezbollah, meaning that it is an ally of al-Assad. Lebanon has effectively sold its consent for the new Arab initiative, alongside the other prominent sellers Iraq and Algeria, which is another story altogether; the story of Iran’s allies.

The Arab consensus here means that al-Assad is now alone, and today he must accept the Arab initiative, or declare his rejection of it, which subsequently entails the matter being transferred to the Security Council. Prince Saud al-Faisal’s meeting with the Syrian opposition, as well as the content of his speech, mean that the Arab ceiling has been raised significantly. There is no longer any room for al-Assad’s tricks; the Syrian opposition is just around the corner from achieving Arab recognition. In fact, the new Arab initiative already suggests implicit recognition of the Syrian opposition, whereby it stipulates that al-Assad’s deputy must engage in formal negotiations with them. Here an important point remains, namely that the situation on the ground is not going to help the al-Assad regime, but rather it will be exposed to ongoing losses, not to mention the systematic erosion of its prestige, especially with some areas of Syria falling into the hands of the Free Syrian Army. All this means that the situation on the ground may not even grant al-Assad the chance to negotiate, and indeed this is what we expect.

Thus the reality of the situation today suggests that al-Assad is hanging in the balance, and who will come to his aid: The Arab initiative, the revolutionaries or the Security Council?