An Open Letter to the Arab League Secretary General

Article Summary
The Arab League’s referral of the Syrian crisis to the UN Security Council reveals its own incompetence, writes Talal Salman. In particular, he criticizes the dominance of Qatar in directing the league’s policy, and the willingness the league has shown in exposing Syria to foreign intervention. This article is written from an Arab nationalist perspective and, while critical of the Syrian regime, it maintains that countries sponsoring the Syrian opposition - including Turkey, Qatar and the West - are also to blame for the escalation of the crisis.

I must first make it clear that writing about the Secretary General of the Arab League’s trip to the Security Council last week, in order to present his testimony concerning the bloody tragedy now afflicting Syria, is not meant to insult Mr. Nabil Al-Arabi. Nevertheless, I affirm my objection to this particular mission, its circumstances, context, and the person of the “head of the delegation”, who had suggested it and who led it from Cairo [to New York] and back.

The trip itself - in the estimation of those concerned about the dignity of the Arab Nation; the League as an institution; and its Secretary General - was not justified and therefore could not have benefited the League. In fact, all signs - foremost among them the example set by the “good predecessor” [of Mr. Arabi as Secretary General] Mr. Amr Moussa - pointed to the fact that the trip would be the source of great or even deadly harm to the role of the Arab League - or whatever remains of that role.

In going to New York, the Arab League as represented by its Secretary General exposes its inability to perform the mission it was established to perform, and therefore transforms it into a false witness, or in fact, into a prosecutor who was not given power of attorney to represent a party that has no legal status in the matter to begin with. This is especially the case now that it has proven its incapacity to formulate and implement a solution through whatever moral standing it possesses, having made itself a party to the conflict when it stripped the Syrian state of its membership [at the Arab League,] which that state helped to found at a time when Sheikh Hamad ‘s gas rich country did not even exist [a reference to Qatar and its ruler].

Furthermore, the Secretary General, who has no status within the international agency (United Nations), nor a role to play in the extraordinary meeting that was held without the need for his consent, spoke in his capacity as a guest who came to confirm – in his moral capacity – the charges made by the Qatari President of the [Arab League] session, and therefore presented himself as a subordinate and not a leader, especially considering that protocol bestows upon him the rank of Minister while the Qatari is a Prime Minister in addition to being President of the session.

All of this relates to the form; as for the content, the Security Council is not an official reference by which the Arab Nation should abide politically, culturally, economically, or in security matters; and it is not the body that the actual referential authority should go to in order to present its report!

Also in the content, the Security Council cannot be the official authority that decides upon the course of action to take in internal conflicts, popular uprisings, or a regime’s tyranny; for if it did, it would not have enough time to settle the near constant conflicts that erupt between Arab ruling regimes and their peoples, which have reached their boiling points and exploded into successive popular revolts throughout the past year, leading to the overthrow of mighty regimes, some of which ruled for over four decades, while others governed for three decades or more, and yet others for twenty five years, without even mentioning the case of the Syrian regime.

Furthermore, the Presidency of the supposed Arab delegation must necessarily be given to the President of the session, who happens to be a Prime Minister, while the Secretary General – regardless of his competence – is relegated to being a mere member of His Excellency’s delegation, whose role is limited to endorsing and affirming His Excellency’s words. Where then is the Arab League with regards to this situation - especially when we consider that the Qatari Emir does not hide his personal hostility, in addition to his country’s enmity towards the Syrian state and its President?

As for the Security Council and the powers that rule it; is it necessary to remind everyone of the great empathy that it has exhibited towards the Arab Nation and its causes throughout its history; since the Palestinian question went before [the council] for the first time in 1948, up until recently when friends of this cause asked the Council to accept a proposal declaring whatever remained of Palestine a state for the people who have managed to endure on what little was left of their lands?!

Would Dr. Nabil Al Arabi have considered - in his capacity as a preeminent expert in international organizations, and one of the distinguished legal negotiators who salvaged Egypt’s historical right on the border of a Palestine that was no longer Palestine - resorting to the Human Rights Council, for example, to demand that Syria’s people be given a semblance of freedom to work, marry and emigrate?

It would be impossible to accuse this illustrious expert of the International Law and international institutions that emerged from the United Nations, of not knowing what the jurisdictional powers of the Security Council were. Similarly, no one can accuse the Secretary General of not knowing which powers in fact ruled the Council, and these powers’ [small] “affection” for the Arabs in general, and in particular those who still refused to sign unilateral peace agreements with the Israeli enemy - regardless of the reasons or intentions behind their refusal.

If [Qatari Prime Minister] Hamad bin Jassim, his great country, and other Arab factions, have scores of newfound enmity to settle with Syria, it is certain that the Arab League’s Secretary General has no such rivalry or hostile intentions [towards that country], and in fact had expended a great deal of well-meant effort in trying to open the door to a solution whose features had started to become clear - only to be stymied by a Gulf counter-offensive that resulted in the Gulf [delegates to the Arab Observer Mission in Syria] being withdrawn [from Syria], and followed by Saudi Arabia rushing, through its Foreign Minister, to meet with the opposition’s delegation in Cairo, without recognizing it as a substitute to the regime.

On the other hand, the Syrian regime has used excessive violence against its people, which cannot be justified by any talk, past or present, about armed gangs that foreign parties supply with weapons, funds, information and battlefield intelligence, in addition to vital services along the Syrian border with Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Iraq. To this can be added Turkey’s official hosting of the opposition’s conventions, and the safe haven that it provides to some Syrian defectors under sectarian pretexts.

The Syrian regime has also made a lot of promises concerning reforms, only to postpone implementing them and substituting them with partial proposals, or tie each clause with a condition that the Arab League cannot fulfill except through sponsoring  an eventual dialogue and offering the guarantees that the regime is supposed to offer for its success. It is certain that the regime bears serious responsibility for the grave turn of events in Syria, and the Secretary General of the Arab League has the right to accuse the regime of not facilitating the success of his task.

All of this is well understood, and the Secretary General’s personal efforts can be further appreciated due to the unfriendly atmosphere that has prevailed against the Syrian regime, some of which is attributable to clear political motives that openly manifested themselves (as was the case with most of the Gulf states, especially following Saudi Arabia publicly announcing its opposition to the Syrian regime remaining in power). But there were also other countries that changed their position without prior warning and for reasons that have nothing to do with the daily death toll or the destruction of institutions; to which can be added poor countries who saw in their “votes” a source of wealth to be sold to highest bidder.

Yet all these remarks fade when compared to the sight of the Secretary General when he gave, at the Security Council, a speech he should have known would not benefit the victims of the Syrian regime’s oppression, but those who, overnight, switched from being that regime’s allies and close friends - the builders of palaces in Hama - to deadly foes, whose enmity will harm the Syrian people and state before having any effect upon the regime and the rulers. He stood in front of the Security Council to declare the end of this distinguished institution, the Arab League. This reflects its members’ present state of affairs, with all their capacity to influence - with the richest country among them being the most influential, despite its small size [a reference to Qatar].

The truth is that the Arab League has lost or was stripped of its role since its members rebelled against it a long time ago. The exact moment might have been when the Egyptian regime forwent the League’s charter and unifying role, and decided to unilaterally enter into a peace agreement with the Israeli enemy, thus heralding a new era of unilateral decisions soon to be taken by other members. This rebellion against the League repeated itself with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990, and the Arab divisions that occurred with the Second Gulf War which paved the way for the American occupation of Iraq in 2003.
That was the exact moment when the Gulf Cooperation Council member states defected from the Arab League, whose authority these states stopped recognizing; and, in fact, they began using it for the benefit of their own policies, to further their own interests and justify their ill will towards others, which was not always innocent and which did not serve to build an Arab future in keeping with the Arab people’s aspirations.

The Gulf Cooperation Council began considering the Arab League as a subordinate department whose job was merely to ratify its decisions, while its members maintained complete independence in Foreign Policy matters, preferring to ally themselves with the centers of their investments, primarily the United States, and Europe to a lesser extent. They had no qualms about reducing the level of hostility towards Israel as long as a new fearsome foe was created in the form of Islamist Iran.

Up until less than a year ago, the Syrian regime was considered akin to a “close friend” whose capital was visited by Gulf leaders in succession, sometimes even going to Aleppo and Latakia. Some of them bought houses there, or received houses as gifts. Yet the responsibility for the bloody state of chaos that reigns over Syria today, threatening its national unity and harming its ability to evolve into what it deserves to be, rests fully with the regime.
But resorting to the Security Council has harmed the unity of the Arab countries, and has been detrimental  to their League’s standing, without any benefit to the Syrian cause as a state or as a people.

It is unfortunate that Dr. Nabil al-Arabi’s misstep served to damage the Arab League’s role and its image, without assisting the Syrian state and people - or even its opposition - in the least.

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