Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Arab League Foreign Ministers Gather in Rabat to Discuss Syria

Following the Arab League's dramatic decision to suspend Syria from the organization, on Wednesday  there will be an extraordinary meeting in Rabat. 

More pressure mounted on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday as Turkey evacuated nationals from its diplomatic mission. The Syrian authorities called for the meeting of foreign ministers as Mr Assad's neighbours, in some cases former friends, reacted with fury to attacks on their embassies and consulates by mobs of his supporters denouncing the League's decision.

One group of supporters broke into the Saudi embassy in Damascus, smashing windows, while another tore down the flag on the embassy of Qatar. Both were leading voices in the move to suspend Syria. There were also attacks on Turkish and French consulates and missions in provincial cities, leading to a decision by the Turkish government to send planes to ferry its diplomats and their families home. The loss of the support of Turkey, once seen as a key strategic ally, has been a particular blow to Mr Assad.

Ministers are already gathering in Rabat for a forum on Arab-Turkish cooperation and the Ministry said yesterday that the meeting will take place on the margins. Among the measures that will be discussed are possible ways of providing protection for civilians in Syria, the Arab League's secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, told reporters.

He said the league may turn to the U.N. Security Council for help, a step that would echo the push toward military intervention against Libya this year. It also suggested that Arab leaders are serious about implementing the decision to suspend Syria's membership and seek ways to halt the violent crackdown against the country's protest movement.

In a further setback for Damascus, Turkey said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would meet with the Arab foreign ministers attending the gathering in Morocco, a sign that the region is closing ranks against Assad after he failed to implement an Arab League peace plan.

The League's decision to suspend Syria from the organization followed the government's crackdown on an eight-month old uprising that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March. The vote leaves Syria increasingly isolated. The surprise vote Saturday by 18 of the Arab League's 22 member states to suspend Syria's membership and open talks with the Syrian opposition about a post-Assad transition triggered a furious reaction in Damascus.

However, while a majority of the Arab League Foreign Ministers appear to condemn Syria, there is uncertainty as to what further action can be taken. Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr is reported as saying that the goal was to avoid international intervention in Syria. On the other hand, Qatar and the Saudis are suggesting that suspension and sanctions do not go far enough and are actively engaged in talks with the Syrian opposition in exile.

King Abdullah of Jordan has suggested that even a change in the leadership is not enough to solve the Syrian tensions. The installation of another Baath Party figure or Assad's much despised brother would solve nothing, he says. Instead, he favours a "new democracy based not on clan, tribe or religious extremes, but a real political choice of Left, Right or Centre".

Of the Arab League countries, only Iran is standing by the Syrians.

The Syrian Government is feeling the heat and must also be worried by the change of heart from the Chinese. Up until now they have opposed UN sanctions, but are now talking about engaging with the opposition parties and ceasing to back Bashar Assad's brutal regime.


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