Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The tug of war over the UN vote on Syria

From my press archives
As I went to bed last night, I thought the theme of my Tuesday post would have to be the diplomatic tug of war over the UNSC Syria resolution.

While keeping my 24-year-old dog walking routine at dawn this morning, I could not imagine Moscow vetoing a second resolution on Syria within 12 weeks.

The draft resolution in its current form endorses the Arab League’s Syria peace plan for President Bashar al-Assad transferring full powers to his second-in-command (see “Full text: The Arab League’s Syria resolution,” 23 January 2012).

I still think compromise language will be found to amend the draft and overcome Russian objections before the vote later this week.

The changes, I believe, will be sufficient to persuade Moscow to allow a watered down resolution to pass by a majority vote. It can do so by abstaining or voting for or against without using its veto.

However, a leading political analyst in today’s Arab press doesn’t share my view. He makes clear Russia will hold its ground because it is fighting a “self-preservation” battle it can’t afford to lose.

"To Moscow's mind," Lebanese commentator Amine Kammourieh explains, “the issue is not Syria. The issue is Russia per se and the Russian leadership’s fate and future.”

Shooting down my anticipation, Kammourieh writes:

Syria is not so much a theater where Russia is defending a regime. It is a theater where it is vigorously warding off a comprehensive attempt to contain it and curtail its influence.

Russia suspects the Moslem Brothers’ likely sway in post-Assad Syria would drive the Islamic tide to its shores in the Caucasus and Ural regions, if not to the heart of Moscow.

But fear of the Islamic genie knocking at the Kremlin’s door is not looming. Nor is it perturbing Russia’s decision-makers today.

Russia also does not wish to see its historic Turkish adversary gaining strength and expanding its sphere of influence southward and eastward. That would tempt Turkey to look northward, where Turkish ethnicity is deep-rooted in places like Dagestan, Chechnya, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Here again, it is not Turkey that is unnerving the Russian bear at the moment.

At stake is not a Russian naval base in the warm waters of Syria’s Tartus seaport either.

Only Russia proper can cause a tense Russian reflex. Only Russia’s higher national interests, which are above all else, can rouse the Russian leadership.

The Kremlin’s current stalwarts believe their fate and future are on the line because of ceaseless provocations by the West. So when their survival is at risk, they become mindful that neither material sweeteners nor paltry deals nor insignificant regional roles can foster or save them.

Washington blundered when it hastened to support the outcry against Vladimir Putin after the parliamentary elections in the hope that an early Russian Spring is in the offing. By so doing, Washington provoked the Kremlin into thinking the Russian regime was the West’s target after Syria’s – or maybe the third if Iran’s were the second.

It is not surprising then to see Russia produce a similar challenge. The Syrian theater being today the most volatile in the game of nations and roles, the faceoff becomes more telling.

Russia cannot afford to lose the Syria game, where it is “playing all or nothing.”

In Syria, Russia is fighting a self-preservation war exclusively led by the Putin-Medvedev-Lavrov triumvirate. The room for maneuver is hence skintight.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Russia's Syria policy seen "sitting at a bar"

Funeral for fallen Syrian soldiers (Photo from

Save for Syria, the hodgepodge of news and views I came across this morning while going through the Arab media includes Qatar’s trailblazing diplomacy, which knows no bounds.

Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad Bin Tamim al-Thani yesterday succeeded in brokering ice-breaking talks in Amman between Jordan’s King Abdullah and Khaled Meshaal, political leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

It was the latter’s first visit to Jordan since he was expelled from the country in 1999.

Meshaal, who has since been based in Damascus, flew in to Amman on the Qatari crown prince’s private jet from Doha.

On Syria, rhubarbs have now broken out among news reporters about the state of play in Damascus.

Saudi Arabia’s leading daily speaks of:
  • “Battles coming nearer to Damascus and reinforcements being placed around the presidential palace”
  • “The Damascus suburbs flaming and the regime engaging the Republican Guard,” and
  • “Rumors sweeping Damascus after closure of the airport road.”

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen writes from Syria, “I had no idea before I saw them with my own eyes that the Free Syria Army was so active in and around Damascus.”

Syria’s printed media, however, are “astounded by the flood of rumors and lies triggered by the army’s surgical operation in the surrounds of Damascus.”

Among other news, they highlight a mass funeral for 23 army and “public order” men killed by “treacherous terrorist hands,” the assassination by “armed gangs” of Homs-based agriculture engineer Ms Amal Issa, the theft of 17 government vehicles from a garage in Idlib, and the quasi-licensing by the interior ministry of two new political parties.

Editorially, Lebanese political analyst Iyad Abou-Shakra says the Syrian regime, realizing violence against its opponents is leading nowhere, “is pondering other options. Regrettably, when fascist forces face a dead-end, but remain bent on maintaining their hegemony, they opt for partition. Faced with a lack of ability to rule all the lands of Syria, the regime will fall back on its emergency ‘reserve option.’ It has been building the latter’s infrastructure for some time.”

Wondering how best to save Syria, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, Saudi boss of Alarabiya TV, says: “A political stand by the Arab League forsaking the regime would entice everyone to pounce on it. An assortment of forces would embrace the main Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative.

“What the Arab League is doing today is cover up the regime’s ugly crimes. As several Syrian opposition figures demanded, the Arab League needs to take off the hand it clasped around the Syrian people’s throat.

“Such solution does not need a plan, or the deployment of forces, or pleas to the Security Council. This will cost the Syrians less pain and blood than providing the regime with an airbag to cushion the effects of collision.”

Emad Adeeb, a leading Egyptian political analyst and the Middle East’s pioneer talk show host, pictures Russian foreign “policy sitting at a bar.”

He believes Russia is so far clinging to five strategic assets in Syria because:
  1. Syria remains the most important buyer of Russian arms.
  2. Russian arms are paid for either in Syrian cash or Iranian oil.
  3. Syria’s Tartus naval base gives the Russian Navy a strategic foothold on the Mediterranean coast.
  4. Syria’s Intelligence tentacles in the region feed the Russian spying services.
  5. Private Russian oil companies expect Syrian pressure on Beirut to win them Lebanese government contracts to explore for oil and gas off the Lebanese coastline.

“This is not to say the Arab League should not be knocking at Moscow’s door to win Russian support for the UN Syria resolution.” Russia is eager to jump to bed with Washington and the Arab world, but only if the Syria price is right.

A former Soviet diplomat once told me USSR foreign policy was akin to “a bar hostess waiting for the client bidding top price for her tainted drink.”

Sunday, 29 January 2012

To each a vision and a dream

Image from

A Moslem preacher in Saudi Arabia was recently passing on his knowledge of the “science of visions and dreams” to believers attending his lectures at a mosque in the Saudi summer resort city of Taef.

Elaph, the Arab world’s first electronic daily newspaper broke the news last October 18 under the title, “Teaching of the science of visions and dreams gets underway in Saudi Arabia.”

Elaph was founded in 2001 by Osman el-Omair, a former editor of the Saudi newspaper of records Asharq Alawsat. It identified the Saudi Islamic Affairs Ministry preacher as Youssef el-Harithi.

Harithi, talking only to Elaph, dismissed as misguided suggestions that interpreting visions and dreams violates Moslem Sharia. Teaching it, he said, is not much different from teaching the “jurisprudence and beliefs of Islam” so long as it is done by certified scholars.

Elaph said a Saudi survey shows interest in the interpretation of dreams is much greater among Saudi females than males. The survey found that females under 26 years old seek explanations of their love dreams. Those above 35 mostly search for interpretations of dreams about their family and marriage troubles. By age 40, the Saudi woman chiefly wants light shed on nightmares revolving around her husband’s existing or expected “second wife.”

A reader, commenting in Elaph under the name “Farid,” had this one-liner reaction: “The world invades space while we interpret daydreams!”

Speaking of visions and dreams, I have been looking to explain a specific one for ages.

I was in my senior year reading economics at the American University of Beirut. In the first semester, I was attending an economics course with Dr. Talha M. Yafi. Sitting next to me in the classroom was Peter Andritsakis, a fellow student from Cyprus. I asked Peter one day why he was always in a rush to leave after Dr. Yafi’s lecture.

He told me, “Because I go to a casino in Bab Edriss to play roulette. It is on the first floor right above Tanios café. It has a midday ‘séance’ from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Are you familiar with roulette?”

When I said I was not, Peter quickly explained the basics of the game: you place a minimum LL.1 bet on a number or a range of numbers between zero and 36, or on the colors red or black, or on whether the number is odd or even.

A couple of days later, I dreamed that I rolled the dice in a game of backgammon and heard someone exclaim loudly, “Le premier rouge” (French for “number one red”).

I rushed to Peter the next morning and asked him to interpret my dream. He said, “Strange, because the number one is red indeed, but there’s no dice to roll in roulette.”

Days later, on a Sunday, I decided to revise for an exam at the AUB Jafet Library, instead of at home. I took a “servees” (shared taxi) and headed to campus. Traffic forced the “servees” to stop right opposite Tanios. As if in a trance, I just paid my fare, stepped down and marched up the staircase next-door to Tanios. The casino’s doorkeeper, who was seated behind a little table, pointed the way in.

I had LL. 4 on me plus some change. I exchanged LL. 3 for three chips and headed to the roulette table and stayed maybe half an-hour or more watching what the croupier did and how people placed bets, collected winnings or lost chips. Then, without thinking or blinking, I took the first of my three chips and placed it on “number one red.” In under a minute, the roulette ball settled in the roulette wheel and the croupier announced, “Le premier rouge.”

I collected my first winnings of about LL. 35. I repeated the exercise twice at intervals of 10-15 minutes while in some sort of hypnotic state. Each time, it was “le premier rouge” and another LL. 35. I was overcome but stayed put until the croupier announced that the session’s last spin was coming.  “Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets,” he said in French. I robotically placed a chip on number 36. And 36 it was!

I walked away with a small fortune of LL 140.

Peter was not on campus when I got there. But I summoned my other colleagues and recounted the story at Feisal’s eatery opposite AUB’s Main Gate. They were in utter disbelief until I showed them the cash. One of them, my chum George T. Yacoub, convinced me to go together the following day to Alpha, a ready-to-wear shop next to the Beirut Municipality building, and buy myself a trench coat. The trench coat cost me LL. 45. Most of the balance went to my mother who thought the dream was manna from heaven.

Interpretations, please!

Friday, 27 January 2012

The cost of gagging Beirut (Part V)

Janet Lee Stevens:
American Arabist in “Slaughterhouse Lebanon”

“We are ordinary people from around the world standing up for humanity and human rights,” Amnesty International declares on its UK website. “Our purpose is to protect individuals wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied.”

That’s what Janet Lee Stevens was all about, which explains her long association with the human rights watchdog.

She had two halves to her life. One half was championing humanity and human rights. In the other, she was a rebel at heart.

Humane, talented, self-reliant, ambitious, fearless, rebellious… Those are adjectives I would use to describe Janet who joined my Monday Morning staff in Beirut as a journalist in 1981.

She resigned two months into Israel’s June 1982 invasion of Lebanon and its occupation of Beirut.

She was killed with 62 others in the April 18, 1983, truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in the Lebanese capital, where she was lobbying for U.S. aid to war-torn Lebanon.

In the words of her partner, Franklin Lamb:

“Janet Lee Stevens was born in 1951 and died on April 18, 1983, at the age of 32, at the instant of the explosion which destroyed the American Embassy in Beirut.

“Twenty minutes before the blast, Janet had arrived at the Embassy to meet with USAID official Bill McIntyre. She wanted to [urge] more aid for the Shiites of South Lebanon and the Palestinians at Shatila and Burj al-Barajneh camps...

“As they sat at a table in the cafeteria… a van stolen from the Embassy the previous June arrived and parked just in front of the Embassy, almost directly in front of the cafeteria.

President Gemayel at the disaster scene
“It contained 2,000 pounds of explosives. It was detonated by remote control. Tons of concrete pancaked on top of Janet and Bill, killing 63 and wounding 120.

“Janet worked with Amnesty International until the time of her death.

“She moved to Lebanon two years before her death from Tunisia and her passion was to become a successful investigative journalist. She worked in Lebanon at Monday Morning magazine and she left the magazine following the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. She also worked during this period as a freelance reporter and as an assistant to Japanese journalist ‘Arata,’ a reporter for Asahi magazine in Beirut.

“During this same period she wrote reports for the news agency al-Quds Press as well as for European and American journals. Janet was hired by al-Kifah al-Arabi magazine to write in-depth reports a few days before she died. The magazine describes her as faithful to the Arab cause and especially the Palestinian struggle as is clearly shown in her reports published in the German and American media. Janet became the inspiration for John Le Carré's lead character in the book, and later movie, ‘The Little Drummer Girl.’

“Remains of Janet's body were found two days following the Embassy explosion, unidentified in the basement morgue of the American University Hospital by the author. She was pregnant with our son, Clyde Chester Lamb III…”

It was on one of my trips to London in mid-1981 that Janet was recommended to me for employment in Monday Morning by Randa (“Randoush”) Yammine.

Randoush, my alter ego before becoming Mrs. Astley-Cooper, worked for Monday Morning until the Yammine household joined the Lebanese exodus from Beirut shortly after the outbreak of civil war in 1975. Following a spell in Saudi Arabia, Randoush settled in London, where she did volunteer work for Amnesty and got to know Janet, who she described to me as “a talented American Arabist eager to work in Beirut.”

In fact, on her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Janet first went to Egypt, where she learned to read and write Arabic. It was in Cairo that she met and married Taoufik Jebali, now the luminary of Tunisian theater.

When she moved with Jebali to Tunisia, where she spent nearly five years, she kept up her learning of Arab and Islamic culture and the Arabic language at Zaytouna University.

Beirut and Monday Morning came next.

Janet with the lottery ticket vendor
The features she wrote for the magazine reflected conditions in the country. Her first, published in December 1981, was titled “Behind the [TV] Screen” and focused on readers’ queries and TV companies’ answers about poor reception and programming. In February 1982, she wrote about “Lebanon’s Lady Luck,” focusing on the then 40-year-old National Lottery and the blind lottery ticket seller she chose to interview on Beirut’s seafront boulevard.

A month later, Janet turned the spotlight on “The End of Asfourieh,” writing: “Years of controversy and war have finally closed the Lebanon Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders. This is the story of the developments that led to its closure last week, and of the plans that will hopefully get it started again.”

Janet’s 10-page news feature titled “The Lebanese Survival Manual” appeared in the week preceding the invasion.

The "Survival Manual"  illustration
Three weeks into the invasion, her piece – titled “Help!” – noted: “Hundreds of Beirut volunteers rush to help the wounded and the refugees, as the western half of the capital braces for more death and misery.”

“Slaughterhouse Lebanon” was Janet’s farewell piece for Monday Morning. Published on July 12, 1982, it focused on the “thousands of civilians who were maimed and wounded” in the invasion.

According to The Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, “Janet Lee Stevens was a doctoral student of Arabic literature in the Department of Oriental Studies (now the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations) who became devoted to the language and culture of the Arab world. She expressed her affection by setting for herself the highest critical standards of learning and by her deep commitment to promoting tolerance and understanding of the peoples whose literature and civilization she grew to love.

“Janet spent the last few years of her life immersing herself in the region, conducting important scholarly research, writing honestly about events she observed, arguing for compassion in human affairs and tolerance of ideas in the realm of the intellect. She took great personal risks in her constant efforts to mitigate the harsher qualities of life she encountered.

“On April 18, 1983, on the eve of returning to Penn to complete and defend her thesis [‘The impact of popular literature on the Egyptian theater’], Janet was killed in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut while interviewing embassy staff about the use of American aid in Lebanon. Her family, professors, fellow graduate students, and many friends created [The Janet Lee Stevens Award] to honor her memory and spirit.”

The Janet Lee Stevens Award is “given annually to two graduate students in Arabic and Islamic Studies who, in addition to showing exceptional merit in his or her academic performance, fulfills the spirit of the Award by working to improve relations with and understanding of the Arab world… Eligibility is open to U.S. and non-U.S. citizens alike.”

My last post in this series will be about the sixth victim, Krikor Ohannes, aka Coco.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Is the Arab League's Nabil Elaraby a quisling?

Elaraby meeting with Assad (photo via

The gutsy question referring to the head of the Arab League is raised in the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat by non-other than its chief editor, Tariq Alhomayed.
In his editorial today, Alhomayed starts by explaining his reasons for casting doubts on the job performance of Nabil Elaraby before passing his judgment. Here in essence is what he wrote in Arabic this morning:
On July 17, 2011, and in the wake of Elaraby's trip to Syria and the remarks he made after meeting with Bashar al-Assad, I wrote an article saying: "The Syrians were very quick to build on the remarks made by the new Arab League secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, whose statements could not have been made by someone seasoned in politics."
The 10-month old Syrian revolution has so far claimed some 7,000 lives. Thousands more are either detained or gone missing. But we’re back discussing Nabil Elaraby and his positions on Syria.
Mr. Elaraby defended Assad when he met with him in Damascus last July. He is fully aware nothing changed in the Syrian regime’s behavior since. Yet he persists in making odd and ambiguous decisions seemingly defending Assad.
Even at his last press conference in Cairo, Elaraby did not sound convincing on the new Arab peace initiative. It was Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim who spoke rationally and plainly.
Elaraby continues to sing out of tune. He chose Khaled Meshaal to relay a message to Assad, and Gen. al-Dabi to lead the Arab observer mission. He is now lobbying Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei to be his Syria envoy only because Assad could be more amenable to the appointment. That’s because of ElBaradei’s stands on the (2007) raid on Syria’s nuclear facility and on Iran’s nuclear program and his criticisms of the West and the Americans then. Is that a joke or a fact?
With all due respect to ElBaradei, what would he do in Syria? Would he pull out as he did in Egypt (when he dropped his presidency bid)? Would he pass from sight when Syrian demonstrators come under fire as he stayed away from Tahrir Square, presumably not to steal the limelight from the youths there?
All this is puzzling and warrants a legitimate query: So long as Elaraby chose Meshaal and al-Dabi and is now lining up ElBaradei, should we expect him to co-opt Azmi Bishara and Mohamed Hassanein Heikal next?
To answer the question in the headline, Elaraby does not seem to be a quisling. But he is far from understanding the region and its variables. A quisling needs to be smarter for sure.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Decrypting cheery Lebanese sayings

Free vinegar is sweeter than honey.

Spit against the wind, and you’re likely to get spit in your eye.

A mother uses her wings to gather her children; a father uses his to fly away.

He who learns only by his own mistakes will die young.

The emptier your pocket the more your shortcomings.

These are some of the proverbs you will hear if you visit the villages of Lebanon.

According to the late author Salam Racy, who made Lebanese expressions his hobby and wrote books about them, it’s by visiting those villages and listening to the villagers’ constant stream of sayings that you are likely to start understanding the real Lebanon.

What the villagers say, however, is not always comprehensible to the novice.

It is when you dig for the roots of their expressions that you come across cultural nuggets. For example:


If you say someone is combing his beard, you’re saying he’s preparing himself for a high position or reward, or seeking one.

The saying probably started when beards were regarded as a status symbol. Since combs were rare in those early days, bearded notables went to barbers to have their beards combed. But when the comb fad started, a man who combed his beard in public was regarded as getting ready to assume high office or to cash in on something or other.


A person who “sees himself” is a conceited person who keeps admiring himself in the mirror. The Narcissus-practice gave birth to the “seeing oneself” expression, one of the most common in rural and urban Lebanon.


The rhyming expression (la salam wa la kalam) is used when someone passes by without saying hello, for fear the greeting will draw conversation.


A person who greets people “with the back of his hand” is one who does so reluctantly or with asperity. The expression dates back to the days when an exalted religious or political personality would greet a lesser person by stretching his hand horizontally, palm down, over the outstretched hand of his inferior, expecting his hand to be kissed, not shaken.


Meaning a person who is late to an appointment or is not where he should be must not be judged until he shows up and explains why.


The reference in modern days is to people of influence who can make things happen or prevent them from happening. In the old days, however, the reference was to villagers with magical powers who did and undid things by actually knotting or unknotting pieces of thread or strands of hair.


“Stick stopper’ is the Lebanese equivalent of “whipping boy.” The expression is said to have been spawned by marital problems: A man who was displeased with his wife often grabbed a stick and shook it in her face, stopping short of hitting her with it. When his anger was uncontrollable, he would often turn the stick on something in the house and smash it. The idea was that by breaking the object, he would let off steam, and thus “break the evil.” The object he chose to vent his rage on was the “stick stopper.”


This is an expression prefixed to the phrase that invariably precedes words spoken in anything but the polite classical Arabic. (In English, it corresponds to saying or writing something “in plain English.”)


The “chair” here denotes public office, and the expression means that candidates who run for public office and make a lot of promises to get the required votes forget their promises when they are elected.

But according to Racy, the root of the expression, far from being political, is an old humorous tale involving a monk and the confession chair.

It is said that a Lebanese monk, Andraos by name, used to break his fasts in secret, hiding eggs in his cell and helping himself to them when no one was looking.

But the truth will out, and rumors soon got to the head of the convent who asked another monk to spy on Andraos. Caught red-handed, Andraos was summoned by his superior and plopped to the confession chair.

“I forget,” said Andraos blandly.

“How can you forget what you did 15 minutes go?”

Said Andraos: “It’s funny, but I find that this chair has a terrible effect on the memory. If you don’t believe me, sit on it and let me ask you a question.”

The superior sat on the chair and Andraos asked him, “Father, what were you doing with Hanneh, the gardener’s sister, under the olive tree last night?”

The superior rose abruptly, saying: “You are right my son. The chair makes one forget.”

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Russia and Syria at a crossroads

Russia's flag (via Wikipedia)

With top Kremlin aide Mikhail Margelov now saying Russia can do little more for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and with the Arab League tabling a “game changer” plan for Assad’s peaceable exit, two political analysts suggest in today’s Arab press the Syria crisis cards have been randomized.

Abdelbari Atwan, publisher/editor of the London-based pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, believes “the noose has tightened around Assad’s neck.”

But in her daily column for Beirut’s an-Nahar, Rosanna Boumounsef says it’s Russia’s stance ultimately that will prove “pivotal in determining the regime’s fate.”

In the words of Abdelbari Atwan:

President Assad stands almost alone in the face of an Arab League where his country lost its clout, its decision-making sway and its seat. Above all, the Gulf heavyweights alongside whom his father fought to evict Iraq from Kuwait now want him out. They had earlier turned their back on Saddam Hussein after his role in defeating Iran and shielding their regimes drew to a close.

In saying Assad stands alone, I also refer to the latest Arab League vote on its Syria plan. Algeria abstained, and so did Iraq. Lebanon was the only state choosing to “shun” the ballot altogether.

The Russians, who supported Assad to the hilt in recent months, sending a naval task force to Tartus and blocking a Syria resolution at the UN Security Council, seem to be opening the door to a shift in their position. They sufficed so far to leak remarks by President Dmitry Medvedev's protégé Mikhail Margelov saying, “we can do no more” for Assad. The shift can be justified by the similitude between the new Arab plan and the three-month-old Russian proposals encouraging Assad to hand over power to his deputy, Farouk al-Sharaa, form a national unity government to oversee parliamentary and presidential elections and initiate serious political reform.

Syria’s rejection of the Arab League roadmap mirrors Ali Abdullah Saleh’s initial rejection of the GCC’s Yemen initiative. Saleh ended endorsing it and enplaning for Oman on his way to the United States. I can envisage a replay of the Yemen scenario in Syria… and maybe later in Algeria.

An added thorn in Assad’s flesh is Saudi Arabia deciding to take charge of the Syria file. The Saudi role to bring down Assad may be decisive. The massively oil-rich kingdom has a strong following in Lebanon and Syria, is the Islamic world’s powerhouse and America’s closest regional ally.

In the opinion of Rosanna Boumounsef:

The Russians used the “Yemen scenario” expression in recent months and appeared ready to embrace it to help find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Hence their 2011 invitation to Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa to visit Moscow for talks. The visit did not take place, purportedly because the Syrian command prevented it.

The question at this point is if Russia, which has long favored the Arab League route to a solution in Syria over the Security Council’s, would eat from the new Arab League meal cooked in Cairo.

Russia’s decision is crucial for two reasons. One, it would break with Arab majority ranks if it shied away from the Arab League platter. Two, it would deal the Syrian command a body blow and restrict its room for maneuver to a hair’s breadth if it gobbled it down.

Russia’s comportment at the UN Security Council once the Arab League presents its Syria plan for endorsement is eagerly anticipated.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Full text: The Arab League’s Syria resolution

Following is my English wording of Sunday’s Arab League Resolution 7444 setting out a roadmap for peace in Syria.  The resolution declares after a brief preamble that the Arab League Council of Ministers DECIDED:

1. All acts of violence and killings from whatever source must stop, of necessity, to protect Syrian citizens.

2. To request the following from the Syrian government:
  • Release the detainees; clear all armed manifestations from cities and populated neighborhoods; give unhindered access to the pertinent League organizations and to the Arab and international media so they can move freely across Syria to ascertain the reality of conditions and monitor events on the ground.
  • Withdraw the Syrian army and any variety of armed forces back to their barracks and original positions.
  • Guarantee freedom of all manner of demonstrations and refrain from confronting demonstrators.
  • (The Council also) calls upon the Syrian government to facilitate the observers’ mission and permit the entry of all their equipment, chiefly telecommunications gear

3. To continue supporting, and to boost up the ranks of, the Arab League observer mission by providing it with the necessary technical, financial and administrative assistance in cooperation with the United Nations secretary-general.

4. To call upon the Syrian government and all opposition constituents to engage in a serious political dialogue under Arab League auspices within a maximum of two weeks from this date, the objective being:
  • Formation of a national unity government in conjunction with the opposition to be led by a consensual public figure within two months from this date. Its task would be to implement the Arab roadmap and pave the way for multiparty legislative and presidential elections by virtue of a law stipulating they be held under Arab and international supervision.
  • For the president of the Republic to give his first deputy comprehensive authority to fully cooperate with the national unity government so it can fulfill its duties in the transition period.
  • For the national unity government to declare as soon as it is formed that its objective is to establish a democratic and pluralistic system (of governance) in which all citizens are equal irrespective of their affiliations, sects and denominations and that the transfer of power is done peacefully.
  • For the national unity government to restore security and stability in the country and restructure and reinforce policing services so they can undertake security duties of a civic nature. The Arab states take it upon themselves to fund this endeavor in coordination with the Arab League.
  • Creation of an independent inquiry commission, which will be mandated to investigate and clear up abuses against citizens and decide on matters of redress for victims.

5. To direct the Arab League secretary-general to appoint a special envoy to follow through the political process.

6. To invite the international community to give a helping hand to the national unity government so it can fulfill its duties.

7. To ask the (Syria) committee chairman and the secretary-general to notify the Security Council of this plan pursuant to the Arab League resolutions.”