Arab League: Legitimising Syria’s opposition
How significant is the representation of the Syrian opposition in the Arab League for the ongoing conflict?
The Emir of Qatar has welcomed representives of the Syrian National Coalition to the Arab League summit in Doha, and invited them to take the seats of the Assad government.
“Delegitimising Assad’s regime does not necessarily mean legitimising the opposition. I mean the Assad regime is actually illegitimate itself, almost all the Arabic Republics have actually become regimes by the means of military coups, not by democratic means. Now the question is, what legitimacy the opposition has; have they actually come through elections? The answer is no, so we have to wait and see, and I think that the opposition has to be extremely careful not to use such an arrogant language that the Assad regime has been using.”
– Adel Darwish, a Middle East affairs analyst
Damascus reacted furiously to the decision, saying the Arab League had handed Syria’s stolen seat to “bandits and thugs”.
Syria’s membership of the Arab League was suspended in 2011 as punishment for its brutal crackdown on the opposition.
Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, opened the summit by urging the UN Security Council to stop the killing in Syria’s two-year-old conflict, and hold those responsible to account before international courts.
He also gave a bleak assessment of the harsh reality in Syria:
“Tragic and grave developments in Syria over the past two years have taken a radical turn where indescribable crimes have been committed. Keeping silent about these crimes is a crime in itself. Our stance has been clear.”
In the past, the Arab League has been criticised for not doing enough to address the Palestinian issue, Lebanon’s civil war and the invasion of Iraq.
More recently, critics have turned on the Arab League’s response to the so-called Arab Spring. By its detractors it has been often described as an ineffective “talking shop”.
The group sought controversial UN intervention in Libya. And on Syria, Arab League efforts to stem the violence have so far been seen as a universal failure. A UN observer mission established in April last year was suspended less than four months later.
So how significant is the official Arab endorsement? And will it prompt any wider international action to help end two years of bloodshed?
To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Yaser Tabbara, the spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition; Adel Darwish, a historian and political editor of Middle East Magazine; and Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar – a British defence and security think-tank.
“The more they [the international community] empower us to defend the Syrian people and to depose this brutal dictator, the closer we get to a situation where we do not have any more killing, indiscriminate and brutal attacks by airforce on densely populated areas. I think everybody understands that the international community understands that he [Assad] has lost legitimacy. We have an interim government that has been elected by the coalition, that has immediately engaged in visiting the inside of Syria, that has immediately engaged with the Syrian population on the ground …. We are taking every serious measure in the direction of taking on the affairs of the country. And this is another excellent step in that direction, taking the seat in the Arab League, which will hopefully lead us into taking the seat in the United Nations and other regional and international organisations.”
– Yaser Tabbara, the spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition