Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Western Stance On Libya And Syria

By Randa Takieddine
The British-French understanding that was obvious in the discussions between the foreign ministers of the two countries, Alain Juppe and William Haig, on Monday, about what is taking place in Libya and Syria, is very important. This is because of the joint intervention by these countries in Libya, their membership on the United Nations Security Council and their influence in Europe's decision-making is of fundamental importance (with Britain's special relationship with the White House). This gives added significance to their role and their thinking about what is taking place in the Arab world, and especially in Libya, Syria and Egypt.
Certainly, for these countries and other Western states, things are clearer with regard to what is taking place in Libya than in Syria and Egypt. There is a firm strategy on Libya: military pressure will continue even if this takes longer than expected. However, an opposition has begun to coalesce, as an alternative, and when Qaddafi leaves power, the political track will experience a new situation for the post-Qaddafi period, and this will be decided by various political forces in the country. Britain and France are now making efforts to release the regime's frozen assets at Societe Generale and British banks, to help the opposition National Transitional Council. In the end, there is a joint conviction that the Gaddafi regime is on its way out, sooner or later, even if this takes more time and more discussions with African leaders who are friends of Britain and France.
As for Syria, the situation is different, since France and Britain are convinced that the Syrian regime lost legitimacy because of its repression and use of force, and killing, against a people demonstrating for European democratic values that these countries promote and call for, even if this has been a bit tardy. There are a number of questions about the Syrian situation, which have prevented any Western official from saying that Bashar Assad must leave power.
Officials in Britain, France and the US are wondering about an alternative if the Syrian regime falls; they are asking about the opposition, and the quality of this alternative, and how it will re-order itself to create a credible alternative. There is also strong dismay in France and Britain vis-à-vis Russia's refusal to condone any Security Council resolution that condemns and punishes the Syrian regime's oppression. This is because Russia believes the international community has overstepped the resolution in its intervention in Libya, and fears the same might happen in Syria. The Arab stance, represented by the Arab League, is ineffective. It also does not support the international position of punishing the Syrian regime, or saying that it has lost its legitimacy. The Syrian regime has lost friends such as Qatar, and another regional friend, Turkey. But the fear and anxiety about the situation in Syria is also linked to and is influential in the situation in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Turkey, or those countries with which it has borders. Western countries are certainly confused when it comes to thinking about the future of Syria, which makes them hesitant about saying something like they did about Libya, along the lines of President Assad must step down. This is even if there is a prevailing belief that the Syrian regime can remain stable, or last, if it continues its present course.
As for Egypt, the reading by Britain and France of the developments underway in this large and important country is worrying; Egypt is being discussed and thought about profoundly, in view of the country's importance, and also due to the lack of certainty about the direction of events there, after Egypt's democratic revolution was initially welcomed.
The British-French understanding reflects legitimate questions about the future of Arab revolutions, with definite support for this track of freedom, accountability and democracy.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 27/07/2011

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