Monday, August 8, 2011

Is Walid Muallem Joking?

By Tariq Alhomayed

While Bashar al-Assad’s troops are using tanks and heavy weaponry to tear into the heart of Hama and other Syrian cities, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused the Syrian opposition – in front of the eyes of the Arab world and the international community – of taking “negative stances” and being responsible for the absence of a national dialogue [in Syria].

The accusations that Muallem leveled at the Syrian opposition, in front of Arab and foreign ambassadors, is nothing more than uninformed hype, and confirmation that the Syrian regime is completely incapable of reform. Muallem previously spoke of “forgetting that Europe exists on the map”, and the Syrian Foreign Minister has today come out in front of the representatives of the international community to say that the Syrian opposition is to blame for what is happening in the country’s cities. Muallem’s statement in this regard is no different than the well-known scene in a famous Egyptian play in which one character, after slapping another in the face, repeats “he is hitting my hand with his face!”

This is precisely what Muallem is saying in his statement, as he is placing the blame on the Syrian opposition that is being suppressed by all kinds of arms. However the question that must be asked now is: why did Muallem say what he did in front of this meeting of ambassadors posted to Damascus?

The clear answer is that the Syrian regime is now beginning to feel the authenticity of the international – and now the Arab – pressure [to stop the violence], particularly following the statement issued by the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC]. This was an extremely important statement, although issued late. One Gulf official informed me that this GCC statement was not issued on the spur of the moment, but rather following precise deliberations which concluded that “we [the GCC] cannot wait any longer.” This was made clear in light of the Qatari position – and later the Kuwait position – expressing the popular anger in the Gulf with regards to what the al-Assad regime is doing in Syria. This popular anger is also something that can also be seen in Saudi Arabia, for example, and is something that I have seen for myself in Riyadh and Jeddah in recent days.

We have today witnessed a public position [condemning Syria] from 8 Arab states; the 6 Gulf states in addition to Egypt and Jordan. This state of affairs requires us to ask a direct question to Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby – who previously stated that the Arab League is concerned with state policies, not peoples – namely; what is his response to what is happening in Syria today, particularly as he was one of those who recently defended the al-Assad regime? Everything that has happened in Syria confirms that what Muallem said to the ambassadors meeting in Damascus is the result of the Baathist regime’s concern about the Arab and international position, particularly the Russian position. Indeed another Gulf source informed me that Muallem’s speech could be considered to be primarily addressed to the Russians, as the Syrian Foreign Minister wants to convince Moscow not to rush and join the international community in its opposition to the al-Assad regime.

We must not ignore Walid Muallem’s statement; however his statement does merit derision! The international community must move to impose sanctions on Syria’s oil sector which is funding the killing of the people of Syria, as well as obtain a decision from the International Court of Justice against the regime’s figures, particularly with regards to the crimes against humanity that are being committed in Syria today. The Arabs must also take a public stand against Iran, especially after Turkey announced that it had intercepted a suspected arms shipment from Tehran to the al-Assad regime.

In conclusion, if the al-Assad regime manages to walk away clean from the second Hama massacre then the blame must not solely be placed on the Syrian Baathist regime, but rather the Arabs and the international community must share a portion of this blame. Our duty is to protect the innocent people of Syria, by all means necessary.

-This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 07/08/2011
-Tariq Alhomayed is the editor-in-chief of Asharq al-Awsat

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