The fact that the Arab League has returned once again to reiterate its commitment to its initiative in its first form means that it is fully aware of the chronic obstruction of the Syrian regime. The terms of the initiative, which were presented to the Syrian regime by Nabil al-Arabi [Secretary General of the Arab League] in September 2011, were part of a last-ditch attempt at a solution [based on] gradual [reform]. The desired solution could have been led by the Syrian President, had he been ready to recognize the problems and solve them. However, the Syrian President made clear to Arabi that the points presented in the initiative were already included in a plan that the regime was in the process of implementing, but had not yet shown any results. The difference between the initiative and the regime’s plan is that the former stipulates that President Bashar al-Assad steps down at the end of his term as an “elected president,” ie mid-2014. While ensuring the implementation of the terms of the initiative, which are intended to alter the parameters of the regime, by mainly separating security from politics. On the other hand, Assad’s plan does not signal an end to the regime but instead proposes to reproduce the regime through changing a number of constitutional and legal provisions, without interfering with the control of the security services.
The last chance offered to Syria was when the Arab League adopted a new initiative at the beginning of November calling on the regime to put an immediate end to violence. This was before the militarization of the uprising further expanded through the activities of the Free Syrian Army. The last chance also included a call from the Arab League for a national dialogue between the regime and the opposition under its supervision. As the Syrian regime [continued] to show reluctance with each chance given, the league decided to freeze Syria’s membership and impose sanctions on the country. Two months passed before [the Arab] Observers’ Mission was able to carry out its duties in Syria, while Assad was gradually losing the chance of a safe exit for his regime. Furthermore, [the regime’s] dealings with the Arab Observers were accompanied by threats, expressed in Assad’s recent speech when he implied an intention to get rid of the Arab role if it was not limited or tamed.
This time around, the league realized that the situation on the ground is against the regime and that Assad is losing the grip he has held over most Syrian areas. They also became aware that the possibility of “security intervention” has become costly, and that both the economy and the currency have embarked upon a tragic path after thousands of factories and companies closed down and their owners were forced to leave, returning to Cairo, Dubai and Jordan. The indicators of economic collapse in Syria are on the rise daily. The tables have turned after civilians realized that they no longer needed the Arab Observers, having lost hope since day one that the observers would be able to change the ongoing circumstances. For this reason, they resorted to their own capabilities for self-protection and the “Free Syrian Army.” On the other hand, the regime forgot the threats [it posed to observers] and urged the league to extend the Arab Observers Mission, increase their number, and supply them with additional equipment in the hopes that they could help it [the regime] to prove the presence of terrorists and armed gangs. The league responded to Syria’s request and granted it the extension, even though escalation on all sides had plunged the country deeper into violence. However, it decided not to wait for concessions and instead resort to the political side of its initiative. The league also responded to the opposition that demanded an “internationalization of the crisis,” as the Arab Initiative had failed [to meet their demands]. [They did so] by heading to the UN Security Council - not to inform it that the league had resigned, but to invite [the UNSC] to internationalize the issue by adopting the league’s decision.
This time, the Arab Initiative is no longer calling on Assad to lead reform in his nation or provide his regime with a safe exit; instead it is giving him as president a secure exit, which begins by transferring some of his powers to his vice president, Farouq al-Sharia. This reminds us of the Yemeni scenario, as indicated by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the head of the Arab Ministerial Committee on Syria, during the statement he delivered hours after Ali Abdullah Saleh left Yemen. The latter was armed with immunity from prosecution and had left rule in the hands of his vice president, who is running in the upcoming presidential elections. The Yemeni example has been discussed for weeks, and it has been said that Moscow is considering [implementing a similar] scenario in Syria; but the tight security circle in Syria that controls power has rejected it. And yet, the Yemeni scenario is back as an option [for solving the Syrian crisis] - for if the regime truly wants to resolve [the crisis] through a government that includes the opposition, it should know that the vice president is the first person it should turn to. Based on that, the non-military internationalization of the Syrian issue will be considered to avoid the possibility of a Russian veto, while the Chinese veto will not be of concern due to China’s oil agreements with Saudi Arabia, signed in order to spare itself from the repercussions of sanctions on Iran.
There will be one main difference if the Yemeni scenario is implemented in Syria: The president and his associates will not be granted immunity from legal prosecution. The reason for this is that no one will believe in the legitimacy of the Ba’athist People’s Council and its eligibility to pass such a law. Moreover, if a multi-party government is formed under the supervision of the vice president, then no one should expect it to grant the regime immunity. The multi-party government will ensure that peaceful coexistence takes place in Syria and guarantee that no incidents of revenge take place between the different sects.
Through the new draft of its initiative, the Arab League acknowledged the fact that the Syrian regime has lost the legitimacy to continue [to rule]. It also realized that now is the time to exert effort to supervise the regime’s exit while ensuring that no violent incidents occur as a result. The opposition Syrian National Council has not rejected this proposal; the objection came rather from inside Syria, particularly from the coordination committees of the revolution and the regime itself. The committees considered the extension given to the Arab Observers as an attempt to help and rescue the regime. While the regime quickly rejected the initiative because it was relying on Russia’s position and its veto instead of focusing on what it considered to be a violation of its sovereignty and interference in its internal affairs. The fact is that the concerned foreign forces, both Arab and non-Arab, desires to protect one pillar of the regime before its collapse - even if it is Farouk al-Sharia - in order to use it for the peaceful transition of power. This goes in parallel with the growing concern among the opposition abroad over ways to protect the Alawites following the fall of the regime. The opposition abroad is not concerned about the other minorities, for they do not believe that they will be in jeopardy following the fall of the regime since they were not responsible for the bloodshed. The Alawites are the ones who control the “killing machine,” which consists of the Special Forces, the fourth division [of the army], the Republican Guard, and the intelligence services.
Even though there was talk of serious disputes within the Arab League which were made apparent when Saudi Arabia decided to withdraw its observers from Syria, the fact that the Arab League has reached a consensus indicates balance in its recent decisions. The Algerian reservation at the Arab League was a continuation of its reckless diplomacy, which has become useless; meanwhile, Lebanon’s vote no longer counts, since it either abstains from voting or opposes any decision on Syria. The extension granted to the Arab Observers was not enough to justify the continuation of the Arab League’s role, especially since all Arab League countries agreed that the fact that the regime did not honor its commitment not only harmed the mission of the observers but [resulted in its failure]. Under such circumstances, resorting to a political solution and internationalizing the Syrian [crisis] became inevitable. The approval of Iraq had many implications, for it may have been a reflection of Baghdad’s concern and acknowledgment of the serious situation in Syria. If Iraq’s approval had been coordinated with Tehran, then that is an indication that Iran has decided to reduce its support for the Syrian government, which would be bad news for [Assad’s] regime. This has been the first time since the start of the revolution that the Syrian regime is forced to make a decision, for if it waits any longer it may lose its last chance. If the Syrian regime continues to resist, it means that it has chosen to slaughter the nation and commit suicide.