Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Nor do we want a “Sheikh” Lavrov | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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On 21 March, 2012, Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov] warned that some countries in the region will want to establish Sunni rule in Syria following the fall of the tyrant of Damascus. This statement raised a storm in the Arab world, and I dubbed it a “gaffe” in my op-ed “Mullah Lavrov” published on 22 March, whilst the Russians, of course, raised an “official” objection to this article!

However today, nearly two weeks after Larvov’s statement, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken action to address this dangerous statement about Sunni rule in Syria, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov saying that Lavrov’s statement “was taken out of context and misunderstood” adding that those who live in Russia are well aware that “the majority of Muslims in Russia are Sunni!”

In reality, it is well-known that the majority of Muslims in Russia are Sunni. I was personally part of a delegation that accompanied current Saudi Minister of Defense Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz – then Governor of Riyadh – during one of his visits to Moscow. I heard him, first-hand, addressing a delegation of Russia’s Muslims, during which he called on them to be citizens who respect their country and its laws, and to avoid listening to any external voices, adding that their strength lies in their commitment to their country. Therefore it is well-known that the majority of Russia’s Muslims are Sunni, however the resentment over Lavrov’s comments was not just in defense of the Sunnis; what is required is not for the Russian foreign minister to become “Sheikh Lavrov” instead of “Mullah Lavrov”, rather what is required is simpler and more important than this!

What is required is for Russia, and particularly its politicians – including Lavrov – to care about the innocent Syrian blood that is being shed, for these innocent Syrian people have done nothing wrong except to reject the rule of al-Assad the tyrant. What is required from Moscow is for it to cease defending a killer, who has slaughtered more than 10,000 Syrians, whilst also being responsible for the detention of close to 50,000 Syrians, not to mention thousands of refugees! It is not required that Moscow become the champion of the Sunnis, for the majority of those who criticized Lavrov’s statement against the Sunnis – which contrary to the claims of the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, was clear and not taken out of context – were not supporters of sectarianism or those obsessed with defending the Sunnis, rather their intention was to stop the al-Assad regime’s killing machine and protect all of Syria, and this is something that can only be achieved by the ouster of the al-Assad regime. This is the same al-Assad regime whose victims include members of all communities and sects, whether in Iraq, Lebanon, or within Syria itself.

What Moscow, and particularly the decision-makers there, are unaware of today, is that if Russia were a partner in the Arab stock market, they would have been declared bankrupt thanks to the deterioration of its reputation and the hatred felt by the Arab world towards it. If the US veto in the interests of Israel had harmed Washington, then the Russian veto to protect al-Assad the tyrant has caused Moscow’s stock to drop completely throughout the Arab world. This appears to be something that Moscow is yet to grasp, but there can be no doubt that the Russians will ultimately pay the price for this.

Therefore whilst we criticized “Mullah Lavrov”, this does not mean that we want him to become “Sheikh Lavrov”, rather all that is requires is for Russia to halt its defense of Bashar al-Assad, the tyrant and killer of children. This is not a Sunni/Shiite issue whatsoever, for we want to protect the fabric of the Syrian state, even more than the Russians do!