Do Arab ministers really think that their call for Bashar al-Assad to step down and for Kofi Annan’s mission to ensure a “transfer of power” in Syria will reach the ears of al-Assad or Moscow? Or is it that the Arabs have decided to issue this call based on some Russian signals, most notably the Russian Ambassador to Paris’ claim that al-Assad wants to leave “in a civilized manner”?
Whatever the answer, the Arabs have to remember that Moscow has “played” the international community since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, just as it betrayed the Syrians by standing by the tyrant of Damascus for 17 months, providing him with weapons and diplomatic cover. It is not inconceivable that Russia’s “signals” today are just another trick. Likewise, no one can rely on al-Assad to take a “courageous step”, as the Arab ministers in Doha urged, and no one can believe that al-Assad “could stop the destruction and the killings by taking a courageous decision”, as Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said. Whilst the Arab ministers were reading their statement calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down, his brother Maher al-Assad’s army division was running riot in Damascus, executing young people on the streets.
In truth, the only good to come from the Arab meeting’s statement is the fact that Arab foreign ministers have pressured their ambassadors in New York to call for an emergency UN General Assembly meeting. This meeting will issue recommendations for measures including the establishment of safe areas in Syria, to provide protection to Syrian citizens and enable relief workers to carry out their duties. Yet there is a pressing need to accelerate this particular step, and not wait for the UN to act. The number of Syrian refugees is increasing considerably, and the magnitude of murder and destruction carried out by al-Assad’s forces is beyond horrific, as it has now become clear that al-Assad wants to enact revenge by killing the largest number of Syrian revolutionaries possible, after confirming that there is no hope of him regaining control of the situation. This is exactly what Muammar Gaddafi did before him, and the protection of the Syrians does not need further stalling or delays from the Security Council, but rather the accelerating establishment of safe areas to fracture al-Assad’s forces, especially with the increasing number of defections. The Syrian National Council was right when it said in a statement issued on the eve of the Arab meeting in Doha that “the friends of the al-Assad regime are protecting it politically, providing it with lethal weapons and all manner of continual support, so where are the many friends of the Syrian people? Are they undertaking the obligations of this friendship?”
The obligations of this friendship are to create safe areas, especially after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has captured many border crossings, not to mention the fierce battles it is fighting in Damascus and Aleppo, without the assistance of the international community which contents itself with observing and condemning whilst al-Assad burns Syria and the Syrians in revenge. The Arabs must understand that al-Assad is now irrelevant, and strengthening the capacity of the FSA and establishing safe areas is more important. Such a move would prompt the Russians to follow the lead of the Arabs and the international community, and not vice versa, as the Arabs should not be waiting for a man who kills women and children to take a “courageous step”.