Reinventing the Arab League to Address Syrian Crisis

Article Summary
The bloodshed in Syria has revealed several weaknesses in the Arab League’s mandate, writes Raghid al-Solh. While intervention in Syria has been discussed in passing, the author contends that the league must first clarify its peacekeeping and democracy-building objectives before it embarks on such a mission.

[Recent] Arab League resolutions have provoked conflicting reactions within local circles in the wake of the [explosive] events unfolding in the Arab region. These resolutions include: The no-fly zone over Libya, the observer mission to Syria, the Arab plan to solve the Syrian crisis and certain Arab leaders’ suggestions to send Arab troops into Syria. The reactions [to these resolutions] have simply mirrored the positions of each particular party towards the conflicts in the region, especially in Libya and Syria. Those who support change in the two countries backed these resolutions and suggestions, while those who favored the status-quo adopted a more conservative stance towards them.

It seems difficult to separate the suggestions the League has launched from the sidelines to “Arabize” the Libyan and Syrian crises from the rapidness of  developments in Libya and Syria, and the brutal violence that accompanied these conflicts. The Arab League has played a clear role [throughout these two conflicts], and its suggestions have far reaching implications [for how business should be run in the Arab region]. However, in spite of the fact that each [regional player] consider their personal interests in formulating their positions on the Arab League resolutions with regards to [Syria and Libya], it is necessary to conduct both primary and in depth reviews on [why certain countries have reacted the way they have], especially in this moment where change in the Arab region is about to reach its zenith.

It is obvious that urgency and premature decision-making has characterized the Arab League's resolutions; it made suggestions prior to the internationalization of both crises. The Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani’s call to send Arab troops to Syria was nothing more than a [declaration of its stance vis-a-vis the Syrian regime], as it was not submitted to the League in the form of a detailed project. However, the [Arab League] resolution to send observers to Syria, and the subsequent Arab plan [which called for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his vice president and step down] to solve the crisis in Syria were characterized by a greater degree of clarity. However, despite the premature characteristics of some of the [Arab League] and plans, some of [its suggestions have been] conducive to the advancement of the general Arab condition. [Some of the Arab League’s proposals] have the potential to play a positive role should they take into account the following suggestions:

First: The Purpose of Intervention

The [Arab League] protocol cited that its goal was the protection of civilians, [and that this would be the legitimizing basis for an intervention into Syria]. However, the plan was vague in parts and declared that civilians could not be protected were Syria to fall into civil war. [The proposal] that this kind of war must then be prevented in order protect the lives of Syrians. [Civil war can be prevented] by establishing a national unity government chosen by a parliament. [This parliament must be elected] through free and fair elections and in the context of a pluralistic, democratic and multi-party system.

In order to ensure the protection of civilians and democratic change in Syria [the plan should] call for: A separation of powers, governmental accountability to the parliament - especially concerning the management of public funds - equality between men and women in voting and running for all political and administrative positions, freedom of expression and the formation of political parties.

It is clear that Syria would face much more positive circumstances if these principles were to be applied accurately and honestly. [These principles would pave the way for] a multi-party system to replace the current single-party autocracy, and eventually give way to democracy in Syria. These conceptual suggestions are not exclusive to Syria. They hold true for all Arab countries without exception. However, if the Arab Ministerial Council believes that situation in Syria requires military intervention - unlike certain other countries which managed to implement reforms and democracy in line with international standards - it will have to provide accurate backing for its arguments.

Second: The Legislative Framework. 

[In the event that] the Member States of the Arab League and Arab ministerial councils are convinced that the democratic system - with all of its political, cultural, social and economic implications - is the correct model for Syria; [and if] the Arab League is ready to exert all efforts to accelerate and deepen the democratic transformations in the Arab region; then, the League should take a stand against its member states that shows no respect for democracy and actively violates human rights, including the right to life. [If it is convinced of its principles], the League the right to work towards changing the regime of these states.

The Charter of the League of Arab States should be amended to adopt these priorities.

It is also necessary that these amendments and the Charter texts specify [methods by which] to speed up the pace of democratization in other countries, and prevent further violations of democratic and human values. The historical amendments to the Arab League’s Charter should be backed up with the legislative provisions necessary to prevent selectivity in supporting democratization in the region. For to be selective in calling for democracy in one country but not in the next means the demise of multi-lateral regional institutions.

Third, the Institutional Structure:

The scope of the Arab League’s capacities must include the ability to punish a member state. [The League] must be able to interfere in a state’s internal affairs in accordance with humanitarian principles. The Arab Court of Justice should work to consider [expanding the League’s mandate so that it may address these kinds of issues]. The Court should be charged with adjudicating in all legal and constitutional problems facing the League, especially with regards to any expansion its scope. The role of the Court here is to ensure the “Arabism” of the League’s resolutions. [The Court must place the Arab League’s decisions] in a legal and collective framework, alleviate disputes between member states and protect the rights of the minorities throughout the Arab world.

One other necessary [but not yet existing] institution would be a body of permanent observers that is able to undertake various types of missions in all areas and fields. These types of missions should include monitoring a government’s compliance with temporary agreements (like the recent observer mission in Syria), or other types of monitoring missions relating to elections held by Arab governments.

Moreover, it is possible to envision the creation of an Arab wide [military force] similar to the “Peninsula Shield Force.” This force may not be able to play a role in the Syrian crisis because, at this point, Damascus would not welcome such an initiative. However, if it is impossible to now send an Arab regional force into Syria, it does not mean that it will remain so in the future in places like Libya, Somalia or other hot spots in Sudan. These forces can help safeguard the territorial integrity of these three countries and protect their people from violent and bloody conflicts.

Jean Monnet, the father of [the notion of European unity], insisted that his idea’s success, and the growth of the European Common Market, was based on the fact that some were able to turn times of crisis into building blocks. The crisis [faced by Europe after World War II] fostered an expansion of expertise. [Europe’s] experiences [in these difficult times] gave birth to the laws, customs and institutions that formed the [European Union]. Whoever seeks to heighten the role of the Arab League, regardless of any hidden agenda, ought to remember Monet’s wisdom.

Found in: syrian crisis, syrian, resolutions, military intervention, military, libya, democratic reforms, arab initiative, arab league, arab

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