Sunday 19 February 2012

“Friends of Syria” versus “Friends of Assad”

Anti-Assad demo in the heart Damascus yesterday (Photos from Asharq Alawsat)

Organization of the inaugural meeting of the “Friends of Syria” coalition to explore ways to support the Syrian opposition and further isolate President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is in jeopardy.
Agreement on the conference’s membership, mandate, agenda, date and even the Tunis venue seems to have hit the bump in the road.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalam announced his country’s readiness to host the February 24 conference during last Sunday’s meeting in Cairo of the Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers.
My impression, after reading this morning’s leader in the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, is that Tunisia’s offer is up in the air.
Here is what Alawsat editor Tariq Alhomayed writes in the leader:
If the Tunisian foreign ministry says it won’t be inviting the Syrian National Council (SNC) to the upcoming “Friends of Syria” conference but would be inviting Russia and China, then the question is: What’s the benefit from this conference? Rather, why not call instead for a “Friends of Assad” meeting?
It’s puzzling to hear Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalam say, “For sure, the Syrian National Council won’t be officially represented” at the “Friends of Syria” conference, hoping instead for proper representation of the Syrian opposition.
To say the Syrian opposition is not unified – after emerging from the shadows of two Assad criminal dictatorships spanning 40 years -- is unrealistic.
For example, who unified the Iraqi opposition in London before Saddam Hussein’s downfall except (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq) Zalmai Khalil Zada? And who unified the Libyan opposition except the French and Qataris...?
The conference in Tunis was meant to shore up the Syrian revolution and to send a clear message to the Assad regime, not vice-versa. Inviting the Russians and Chinese would void the conference of purpose…
The conference to be held in Tunisia is not an addendum to the UN Security Council warranting Moscow and Beijing’s attendance. The conference is meant to take decisions that serve the interests of unarmed Syrian civilians. It is not only meant to stop the killings, but to also launch the transition process advocated by the Syrian revolution and endorsed by the Arab League.
So, better have a “Friends of Assad” conference with the participation of Moscow, Beijing, Beirut, some Arab League officials, if not Cairo as well. It could be held wherever they please. But the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference should invite -- and of course recognize -- the Syrian National Council, as well as the influential countries eager to end the Syrians’ suffering and Assad’s crimes, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan, the European countries led by France, Britain and Germany and obviously the United States.
Such a conference would be in a position to take effective decisions and actions palpable to the unarmed Syrian civilians, chiefly those under two weeks of devastating bombardment such as the residents of Homs, Deraa and Idlib.
The “Friends of the Syrian People” need to pass resolutions and take practical steps to support and arm the Syrian opposition, to set up secure humanitarian corridors, to lobby Security Council members for ending the Assad era and to prod the International Criminal Court to track down those guilty of crimes against humanity in Syria.
That is what the “Friends of the Syrian People” need to do. Any other forum that does otherwise should be called the “Friends of Assad” conference.