Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Qatar's weakening foreign policy following the coup in Egypt and changes on the ground in Syria

 Interviewer: Chris Arsenault, a reporter with Al Jazeera online based in Doha
Subject: Qatar's weakening foreign policy following the coup in Egypt and changes on the ground in Syria, September 24, 2013.

Do you think Qatar has overplayed its foreign policy hand in the last few years?

I don’t think Qatar has overplayed its hand with its foreign policy. The rulers of Qatar simply overestimated the durability of assets (Aljazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood) and underestimated the Arab public’s skepticism of politicians and governments. Clearly, the outgoing Emir, who came to power by overthrowing his own father, was very aware of the disconnect between the Arab masses and their leaders. He engineered Aljazeera as a tool to capitalize on that trust deficit and befriended a religious and political movement that was very popular among the disenfranchised segments of Arab societies but shunned by all Arab regimes—the Muslim Brotherhood. That worked for a while. What they did not anticipate is that the Arab masses’ capacity for authoritarianism was rapidly declining, ironically enough thanks in part to Aljazeera, and the public support for the Muslim Brotherhood was mathematically limited (40% support max.). In other words, the people wanted the old system gone, not replaced by a new brand of authoritarianism. Egypt’s events highlighted that: Egyptians equated secular authoritarianism (Mubarak’s) to the new emerging religious authoritarianism (The Muslim Brotherhood). As for Aljazeera, taking side of one party over another irreparably damaged its reputation; and once the link between Aljazeera editorial decisions and Qatar’s foreign policy became obvious, Aljazeera-Arabic became another partisan agency, not as the fiercely independent channel it marketed itself to be when it first started.

Do you think there is any link between the former Emir stepping down and Qatar's decision to focus on domestic priorities rather than foreign policy endeavors?

The outgoing Emir needed to step down one way or another. He needed to do that because he put his personal credibility on the line when he supported all uprisings and civil wars that removed (or threatening to remove) the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. The Emir and his Prime Minister insisted that the Arab world must be ruled by governments chosen by the people. Of course for that position to remain consistent, he (and the other rulers of the Gulf States) needed to make political concessions, too. Stepping down was the best way to accommodate that rhetoric. But he would not have stepped down when he did if it were not for the crisis in Syria. Egypt’s events (which happened after the handover) was just another reason that forced the new ruler (Tamim) to take a step back. I don’t think there has been a planned total shift from foreign to domestic, it is just the complexity of the situations in Syria and Egypt that are forcing the new ruler to take a more measured positions than that of Saudi Arabia for instance.

Qatar spent nearly 4% of its GDP propping up Mohammed Morsi's government in Egypt. Why do you think the country hasn't condemned the military's actions more forcefully?  

The crisis in Egypt was unexpected and the removal of Morsi took place just 8 days after the handover. Moreover, the change in Qatar was necessitated, in part, by the Emir’s failure in Syria, which meant that a new strategy was needed. That strategy was not in place when Morsi was ousted. Based on (Arabic) Aljazeera coverage, and when compared to Alarabiyya’s, Tamim’s foreign policy regarding Egypt is still pro-Muslim Brotherhood, just not as forceful at the moment. 

In terms of Qatar's large ambitions - its desire to try and mediate regional conflicts and its hosting of high-profile conferences - how much of this is linked to security concerns following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait? And how much of this is linked simply to egotism and a desire to be noticed?

Indeed, the outgoing Emir was a very ambitious person. I am not totally convinced that his disproportionate foreign policy was dictated by his concern for foreign threats. If there was a serious threat to his rule or his country, it must have been domestic, especially given the way he came to power. His personal ambitions, however, are present in every endeavor from hosting global conferences to hosting the World Cup (still a controversial decision), he wanted Qatar to be known around the world. He was able to achieve many milestones because he had run the country like a corporation and his foreign policy was more like Public Relations than Diplomacy.


* The reporter expressed regret that not all the comments (especially those deemed controversial) could be published on Aljazeera due to legal restrictions. The full conversation is published here to provide full context.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Deficiencies in the arguments for a U.S. war on Syria and the perils of military intervention in Syria without UNSC authorization

Deficiencies in the arguments for a U.S. war on Sy...Answering a reporter’s question if bombing Syria is needed in order to preserve his credibility since he was the one who set a red line, President Obama replied: “First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty..."

It is true that international law and treaties have prohibited the use of certain weapons nearly a century ago. But UN Charter, the backbone of international law, also had established the proper response to any breach of these treaties. Outside the doctrine of self-defense from an imminent threat, no nation should attack another UN member state without authorization of the UN Security Council (UNSC). If nations were to act unilaterally, would U.S. leaders ratify a treaty that would allow, say the Soviet Union or China, to bomb the U.S. for actually using illegal weapons in Vietnam and other places?
- See more at: http://www.reasonedcomments.org/2013/09/090601-unsc.html#.Ui8q2NJjtcY...

Why would Putin be happy with or without a U.S. war in Syria?

Islamic Societies Review -- Comments : Why would Putin be happy with or without a U.S. wa...Talking to reporters after the conclusion of the G20 meeting, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, declared that any military intervention in Syria without UNSC authorization is an illegal act of aggression. He also said that his country will supply (sell, that is) the Syrian government with weapons to defend itself. This statement, in a sense, clarifies an earlier declaration by his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, when he said that if the U.S. starts a war in Syria, Russia will not be part of it. Some analysts thought that Lavrov’s statement signaled Russia’s readiness to abandon Assad. The increased number of Russia warships near Syria and Putin’s statement reveal a different strategy. - See more at: http://www.reasonedcomments.org/#sthash.TTstMtt9.dpuf...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What Lies Ahead For Qatar’s New Emir? Will the gas nation’s change of Emirship herald a new political era?

By Aarti Nagraj August 15, 2013

In his final address to the people of Qatar, the country’s outgoing emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said: “The time has come to open a new page in the journey of our nation that would have a new generation carry the responsibilities [armed] with their innovative ideas and active energies.

“I address you today to inform you that I will transfer power to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. I am fully confident that he is qualified for the responsibility and is trustworthy and able to carry the message forward.

I am full of faith that you will be the best support for him as you supported me.” The 61-year-old Sheikh Hamad, who ousted his father in a bloodless coup to take power in June 1995, has been credited with catapulting the tiny Gulf state onto the global stage.

From creating media powerhouse Al Jazeera and becoming the world’s largest LNG exporter, to winning the bid to host the Fifa 2022 World Cup, Qatar has now firmly established itself as a global power to be reckoned with.

So, when Sheikh Hamad transferred power to his son, 33-year-old Sheikh Tamim in June this year, he set a new precedent in the Arab region by abdicating instead of being removed by a coup, or becoming infirm.

“It is a wise move for the Emir of Qatar, given his claims of supporting popular uprisings in the Arab world that ousted old regimes. He was after all one of the old regimes,” stated Ahmed Souaiaia, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Iowa and an author.

“But it would have been a meaningful move if he established a constitutional system – that would have been groundbreaking. Now it falls to the new Emir, his son, to establish a new system if he elects to do so. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is another reason for the new emir to take a different path in regards to foreign policy,” he said.

Qatar, which played a key role in helping the revolt that overthrew Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has invested nearly $8 billion in Egypt in the form of support to its Brotherhood allies and $3.4 billion in Syria in support of the rebels who are fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.

“Neither of those investments paid real dividends (political or otherwise) and that should be a matter of concern to the Qataris,” Souaiaia added.

In his first televised speech as the new emir, Sheikh Tamim said: “We don’t take direction [from anyone] and this independent behaviour is one of the established facts.”

While Qataris have pledged complete support for the new Emir and have eagerly welcomed the change, the power transfer may not have an impact outside the nation’s boundaries.

“The move means nothing for the rest of the GCC,” expressed Souaiaia.

“After all, so far, the GCC has remained more or less unchanged by the so-called Arab Spring and the transfer of power from father to son is hardly a radical event.

“The GCC rulers are aware of the changing political map in the Arab world, and each of the countries has been affected in different ways. But the transfer of power in Qatar is Qatar- specific,” he said

Source: Gulf Business

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Arab Spring 2.0: Why did Morsi lose the presidency and why did the Muslim Brotherhood lose a revolution?

Many Arabs, thirsty for real change, look at the events of the Arab Spring positively. Liberal, secular, conservative, and ultraconservative groups and individuals in the countries transformed by the Arab Spring who supported the overthrow of the old guard agree that these revolutions were necessary. They disagree on the post-revolution arrangement. The Arab Spring 2.0 that took place in Egypt on June 30th is a good example of the disagreement between former allies about the future of the new Arab World. Analysts and observers of Middle East affairs are trying to make sense out of something that does not operate according to common sense. All that can be done is a sound analysis of the facts. I have received several inquiries for comments about the events in Egypt. A summary of these comments might provide some legal and historical context.

Friday, May 10, 2013

To compete globally, BRICS nations need reputation, not imitation

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
The economic, political, and social rise of the Western block of nations was founded on the single most enduring currency: reputation. Reputation, the source of credibility and trust, is the real asset that allows the U.S. to project its stature around the world. BRICS nations cannot rise to prominence by mimicking developed countries. They must build their reputation first. Wealth is only a byproduct of this more precious commodity, and countries who have it can squander it just as emerging economies can acquire it. For either of those results to happen in any country, circumstantial conditions and principled actions must converge.
Despite scientific advances, including ease of communication and physical mobility, many countries around the world remained untouched.. Many nations around the world mimicked the Western block of nations’ institutional structures in order to improve social and economic conditions. Consequently, regional cooperatives that grouped some countries together to increase capital and expand markets sprung up all over the world. One such cooperative is the consortium of nations dubbed BRICS. It is a curious association that warrants close examination in order to understand the forces that bind them together and the forces that push them apart.
Observers of international affairs have been intrigued by the outcome of the BRICS summit in Durban. Notably, the leaders of the five countries that constitute this group have agreed to build institutions that will foster cooperation and coordination. Specifically, they agreed to found a New Development Bank (NDB) that would invest in member states’ infrastructure as well as in that of Emerging Markets and Developing Countries (EMDCs).
The leaders agreed that each country would contribute an investment of $10 billion, bringing the initial capital of the NDB to $50 billion. The leaders also agreed to supplement this capital with an additional $100 billion in emergency reserves, establishing a Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), to help member states during unforeseen crises. China will provide $41 billion of the supplemental fund and each of the other four countries will contribute $18 billion, except South Africa, which will allocate only $5 billion. The bank will start by investing in one major project: a high speed Intranet that will connect all five countries. The project is estimated to cost about $1 billion.
The potential and challenges facing this emerging economic group are enormous, given the human, geographic, economic, and political realities that unite and separate them. What is evident, however, is that challenging the West in the name of multilateralism is not enough to create a solid block that will survive the various challenges.
First, let’s look at the potential for success. More than 45% of the world’s population lives in the countries making up the block: 1.347 billion people in China, more than 1 billion in India, nearly 194 million in Brazil, about 140 million in Russia, and almost 50 million in South Africa. Together, the five countries control 30% of the land on earth. Each of the five countries is an economic powerhouse in its own right: China’s economic input (according to data from two years ago) equaled $5.5 trillion, Brazil’s was $1 trillion, India’s and Russia’s were both $1.6 trillion, and South Africa’s equaled $285 billion. Together, the five nations are the source of about 15% of global trade. More recent data show that the economy of BRICS grew by an average of 4%, compared to 0.7% for the top seven industrial nations. Economic projections suggest that BRICS countries will contribute nearly 50% of global economic growth by the year 2020.
But unlike other economic blocks around the world, BRICS consists of five countries from four different continents with five different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The geographic, cultural, and ethnic differences among BRICS nations are significant, but the political differences are even more pronounced. For instance, Brazil’s political culture is rooted in leadership that is derived from the authority of the Church and the power of the institution of the military. In contrast, China’s political system combines Confucius’ values with communism and the veneration of elders. India’s democracy, shaped by religious and class casts, is nothing like Russia’s authoritarianism or South Africa’s emerging representative governance. These differences are significant because political stability is also crucial in building reputation domestically and globally. Nations become stable and reputable when citizens (and businesses) know that life, property, and dignity are safeguarded under all circumstances. If these nations cannot provide political stability and smooth transfers of power at home, they certainly cannot be called upon to adjudicate political disputes abroad. For that to happen, all five nations need to do more to build robust civil society institutions.
In addition to the challenges that are dictated by difference, BRICS nations face serious conflicts of interests. China is perceived to be interested in flooding the markets of the other countries with its own goods. India is worried about China’s plans to build more dams on rivers on which India depends. Brazil, South Africa, and India have campaigned hard to have their status upgraded in the UNSC, but Russia and China did not support their efforts—which exacerbated the lack of trust amongst the veto-wielding countries and the non-permanent members.
One could argue that differences—especially cultural, political, and linguistic ones—ought to be seen as an asset, not a liability, since leaders of all five nations have emphasized the virtues of diversity and multiculturalism. That would be a sound argument if the composition of BRICS was actually built on diversity instead of economic potential. In the end, this cooperative is an intergovernmental organization. Governments are not in the business of promoting philosophical and ethical norms; they are in the business of increasing value to the power holders.
Ultimately, the fact that BRICS are focusing on creating an investment bank instead of dealing with all the outstanding and potential issues suggests that they are relying on their shared interest in challenging Western dominance. Their first political statement on Syria and Afghanistan shows that BRICS nations need more than potential and resources to be effective on the global stage. Importantly, given the number of crises within the Islamic world, and given the potential and status of the Islamic world, BRICS could benefit from adding at least one emerging Muslim country to their exclusive club of nations.
The lingering financial crisis with which the U.S. and the EU are struggling provided other strong economies with an opportunity to break free from a unipolar world dominated by the United States and its allies. China and Russia are seen as the most likely candidates for re-establishing parity on the global stage. While Russia might be interested in reinventing itself as one of two superpowers in the post-Soviet Union era, China seems more interested in improving and preserving its economic rise. The association of BRICS was built on an idea—not on a principle—an idea that is rooted in the hope that countries with many resources and much potential can compete against the West. Competing against the Western block is unifying, purpose-wise. But competing against the Western block requires a principled approach and disciplined drive to build a reputation that these countries singularly or collectively can project around the world with confidence.
Reputation is not built in a day, by promises, or by wealth. Reputation is the outcome of a historical trend that builds trust. It cannot be bought, coerced, or manufactured. Reputation takes time to build and arrogance to destroy. BRICS nations’ leaders will be fatally mistaken if they think that the crisis of credibility of the West resulting from their recent illegal wars and violations of human rights will create an opening for them to as an alternative. BRICS countries must be consistently better in all those areas for which they fault the West for a long time for them to have a chance to compete for reputation, the most valued prize in human civilizations.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Islamic Societies Review: What does Iran want from the P5+1?

Iran and the P5+1 group (United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany) are to resume negotiations in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 26. Their last meeting was eight-month ago in Moscow. That meeting did not produce a breakthrough and that was expected because, in part, the U.S. was not prepared to offer anything of significance at a time when the president was facing re-election. With Obama re-elected and a new national security team being put in place, both sides must feel that they can make some progress. Otherwise there would be no reason to try again. That much was signaled by the new Secretary of State John Kerry who encouraged Iran two days ago (on Friday) to make a serious offer and promised that “the international community is ready to respond”. So what can Iran offer? Or more importantly, what can’t Iran offer? - See more

Monday, February 04, 2013

Interview with the Associated Press

AP: Is it your understanding that the US has asked Gulf countries aka Qatar and Saudi Arabia to halt the channeling of funds/weapons to rebels and is this only since al-Nusra was listed as terrorist? More importantly, how has this affected the direction of the fighting on the ground in Syria?

Prof. SOUAIAIA: My understanding is that the U.S administration has always been wary of the free flow of weapons to Syrian rebels even before the declaration of al-Nusra a terror organization. A number of US intelligence and military agents have monitored the situation from Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Moreover, US public (and official) position, all along, has been to provide non-lethal aid to the rebels. The declaration made that policy concrete and it provided a legal framework for both the US administration and its allies, including those in the Gulf region. The news of a plan to arm the rebels being turned down show the caution of the US administration about this matter.

Regarding the impact of the declaration on the ground in Syria, all evidence point to a slow down in rebels’ advances. The declaration created a different reality for the sponsors of the rebels. Some may have stopped providing weapons to groups affiliated with al-Nusra, but even the most determined supporters have to be mindful of the legal implication of being found, now or in the future, supporting a terrorist organization. Minimally, those who want to continue supporting al-Nusra and its affiliates must do so covertly and that would slow down the flow of arms, which impacts the way the war was fought on the ground.

AP: Do you think that the rebels have essentially lost the momentum in their fight to topple Assad, or at least to achieve a breakthrough on the ground in terms of advancing toward Damascus for example?

Prof. SOUAIAIA: Evidently, the rebels lost momentum and the French foreign minister said so last week. I would characterize it differently though. I think the war in Syria has reach a dynamic equilibrium. That is a situation where some areas and neighborhoods will remain under the control of the government and other areas will not be safe for government forces. There will be attacks and counter attacks. But it is unlikely that one side will gain full control over the entire country. Damascus is likely to remain in the hand of the government given its symbolism (state sovereignty etc.). The dynamic equilibrium is also present in terms of the identity of the two opponents: now, each side knows who they are fighting. You will notice that there were no significant defections in the last 7-8 months. In a way, the Syrian military has been purged from elements whose loyalty could be questioned. With over 60,000 people killed on both sides, it is reasonable to say that leaders on both sides have blood on their hands now. There are no innocent/clean hands at this point. Even if some may defect now, they will not be easily accepted and integrated into the FSA. So the fault-lines are now drawn and only a political, historical solution can end the cycle of violence.

AP: Some in the Syrian opposition think the West is having second thoughts about removing Assad, fearing the rise of extremists etc.. does that strike you as somewhat correct?

More or less. But I would hesitate to say that "the West is having second thoughts about removing Assad." The West has always wanted Assad out. But the question has been about the how. I think Qatar especially miscalculated the speed and resources needed to oust Assad and the West may have accepted that estimation without independent verification. Some thought that a sensible leadership can emerge to replace him. Now, many have doubts about that. Some Westerners are now thinking that ideological and sectarian makeup of the rebels is more dangerous for their interests and strategic alliances than that of the regime.

AP:  Do you see any hope of a diplomatic settlement to the Syria crisis? Can talks between al-Khatib or any other opposition figures with regime members yield any results?

If Syrians decide to end this crisis they can do so without diplomacy that involves outsiders. After all, it is the inaction of outsiders that is prolonging the pain and suffering of the Syrian people. It is possible that al-Khatib has recognized the fact that the world community is incapable of ending the crisis but he and other Syrians can. For that to happen though, al-Khatib must take his group outside the influence of "axial patronage." Engaging in the politics of the "axis of evil" and "axis of resistance" while the country is being destroyed is utterly irresponsible; the sooner he and other opposition leaders realize this the sooner they can stop the war. The fact that he finally talked to the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers in Munich this weekend show that the National Coalition's president is maturing in his role as a national leader not a factional ideologue.

So, absolutely, only a political settlement of the Syrian crisis can end the cycle of brutal violence. It won't happen that quickly however. And even after a political solution is reached, violence will persist in Syria for some time still. Many fighters inside Syria are not even Syrian and many Syrian rebels have ideological and sectarian reasons to continue to fight. It will take time to bring everyone under control and it takes sacrifices on both sides to bring about true reconciliation. The world community can help speed all that up, but it is up to Syrians to talk to each other and reach a settlement that will preserve the dignity of all Syrians.

Related News Stories

Friday, February 01, 2013

Revolutions and rebellions and Syria's paths to war and peace

In less than a month, peaceful Tunisian and Egyptian protesters ousted two of the most authoritarian rulers of the Arab world. The human and economic costs: a total of about 1100 people dead (300 in Tunisia and 800 in Egypt) and some decline in economic growth. These were the dignity revolutions. In contrast, the Syrian peaceful uprising quickly turning into armed rebellion is now 22 months old with over 60,000 people (civilians, rebels, security and military officers, women and children) dead, more than 4,000,000 persons displaced from their homes, and destruction estimated at $70 billion. This is now, without doubt, an ideological/sectarian civil war. Short of a genocidal outcome, the only path to peace is that which relies on reconciliation and dialogue. There can be no preconditions because all sides have blood on their hands at this point. This reality, and the staggering numbers cataloguing death and destruction might, forces all sides to reassess their previously held positions. Ideologues who wanted to bend the path of a legitimate peaceful revolution to meet their narrow political and sectarian ends can no longer ignore this reality and the state of the country. The fast emerging developments support these hypotheses.

Earlier this week, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (the National Coalition), Mouaz al-Khatib, announced that he is ready to talk directly with representatives of the Syrian regime. He insisted however, that the regime releases 160,000 detainees and renew or extend expired passports for Syrians living outside the country. Meeting on Wednesday in Cairo, some members of the National Coalition slammed al-Khatib, accusing him of straying from the Doha agreement, a document on the basis of which the National Coalition was formed.

In the light of the disagreements, one must ask: why did al-Khatib offer to hold direct talks with representatives of the regime? For answers, we must look at the recent events related to the Syrian crisis. I will highlight some of these events that could reconstitute the National Coalition or force the resignation of its current president.

1. Immediately after the formation of the National Coalition, the U.S. administration placed one of the main Syrian armed groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, on the list of terrorist organizations. The measure created a filter that limited the flow of arms into Syria. The legal implications of the label of terrorism split the opposition and tempered Saudi and Qatari enthusiasm for arming it. The categorization of the opposition into terrorist and non-terrorist groups was further enhanced by France’s intervention in Mali and the French media’s accusation of Qatar of supporting extremist groups in the Maghreb.

2. Three weeks ago, Assad gave a speech in which he called for reconciliation talks that excluded opponents he called "terrorists." Syrian officials said this week that political opposition figures could return to Damascus for "national dialogue" and that any charges against them would be dropped. In the same speech, Assad announced plans for a reconciliation conference with opposition figures "who have not betrayed Syria.” He totally ignored plans by the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who, according to some observers, was close to bridging the gap between Russian and American plan for solving the Syrian crisis. Assad’s speech practically rendered Brahimi’s efforts irrelevant.

3. This week (on Thursday), EU foreign ministers agreed to keep in place the ban on exporting arms to the Syrian opposition. This decision was a upset to efforts by some leaders of the National Coalition who met earlier in the week (Monday and Tuesday) to ask for $500 million and arms. The meeting, which al-Khatib did not attend, failed to provide the National Coalition with any tangible support. Moreover, early last week, France’s foreign minister acknowledged that there is no indication whatsoever that Assad is about to be overthrown and he communicated this new assessment to the so-called “Friends of Syria” when representatives of about 50 countries and organizations met in Paris. Initially, the National Coalition planned to announce the formation of a government in exile during this meeting. But the lack of enthusiasm “delayed” the announcement.

4. Compared to the failed meetings in Paris and Cairo, several other international gatherings about Syria were held around the world and have produced actual results that could help the Syrian people mitigate the economic and political problems they face. One of such meetings was held in Kuwait to raise money for Syrian refugees and displaced civilians. This meeting was not political and perhaps because it was not political it was very successful. More than $1.6 billion was raised in two days. Importantly, the meeting, which was attended by representatives of many countries, including Russia and Iran, highlighted the extent of human suffering and the horror of war. Although the Syrian government was not represented, its authority was nonetheless preserved since the money that is intended to be used to help displaced Syrians inside and outside Syria will be managed by a UN agency, which will coordinate parts of its activities with the Syrian government. This fact could explain al-Khatib’s comment about expired passports. Apparently, he realized that despite France’s (and a handful of other countries’) recognition of the National Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, Assad’s regime is still the only legitimate government in Syria. A second gathering was held in Geneva and it brought together about 300 representatives of the so-called “civil opposition” and international NGOs. The participants issued a declaration calling on the world community to take steps to end the violence in Syria on the basis of the International Geneva Agreement. Specifically, the participants agreed to “negotiations between the opposition and the regime to implement the International Geneva Agreement, for issuing a constitutional declaration to create a Government with full power to administrate this stage, and work to bring about fair legislature and presidential elections, under international supervision.”

5. This week, too, more shocking images of horror emerged: 80 bodies of Syrian civilians were pulled out of a river near Aleppo. The images showed more victims of summary executions. The Syrian government accused “terrorists” of kidnapping and executing civilians living in neighborhoods known for their support to Assad. The opposition groups accused the regime of the brutal killings. Only an independent investigation could determine the identity of the victims and the perpetrators. Nonetheless, regardless of the identity of those who committed this horrible crime, the images remain shocking. The horrific scene of bodies scattered along the river bank made more people realize that the agony of the Syrians is indescribable.

6. Adding to these crucial developments, a spokesperson for the National Coalition announced today (Friday) that “Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib will meet U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.” Reacting to this announcement, Lavrov’s deputy Gennady Gatilov tweeted, “Media reports about the upcoming Munich meeting… are not true.” It is not surprising that Russia would hesitate in granting al-Khatib a high profile meeting given that the latter, when he was selected to head the National Coalition, demanded that “Russia apologizes to the Syrian people.” Russian officials are unlikely to agree to a multilateral high profile meeting that includes a figure they characterized, then, as “amateur.” In other words, this proposed meeting might turn into a series of one-on-one conversations to assess the situation and suggest a path forward. It is unlikely that such a meeting, even if it were to happen, will result in a breakthrough given the gap between Russia and U.S. positions on Syria and the disagreements within the National Coalition.

Notwithstanding this public dissent, and in the light of all these important developments, it is likely that some leaders on both sides are now convinced that there must be an end to the bloodshed, suffering, and destruction. Al-Khatib might be one of them. After all, and despite being attacked by his colleagues from the National Coalition, al-Khatib appeared on an Arab television after the Cairo meeting and declared that he is master of his own decision. He said that he stands by his statement on talks with the regime. He also said that he was not pressured or enticed by anyone or any country but his stand is based on his personal concern for the lives and welfare of the Syrian people. When asked if he is acting in contravention of consensus among the leaders of the Coalition, he replied, “the Coalition members have agreed always to alleviate the pain and suffering of the Syrian people.”

Indeed, al-Khatib’s new position might be dictated by his realization that Syria could not and should not endure this horror for another 22 months. It is also possible that he finally realized that the support promised by the sponsors of the National Coalition may never materialize. In a sense, his about-face regarding talks with the regime to which he previously vowed not to talk is either an act of political maneuvering or a cry of despair. Perhaps, now, the Syrians can trust each other and rely on one another and put an end to an unwinnable civil war. Relying on the regional and world powers has proven to be a costly participation in a proxy war that is devastating the country and further pushing Syrians to the brink of sectarian and ideological war that will certainly fragment the Syrian society and destabilize the entire region.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of a number of books and articles. Opinion herein are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.