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Arab League under pressure, resists freezing Syria membership

Despite demands put forward by the Syrian National Transitional Council and protesters, member states of the Arab League resist freezing Syria's membership, saying the situation is not like Libya

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 12 Nov 2011
Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather during a march through the streets after Friday Prayer in Adlb November 11, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)
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"This is not in the cards now," said an Arab diplomat, referring to action to expel Syria from the Arab League, as he found his way to an extraordinary Arab foreign ministers' meeting on Syria, opening in Cairo at noon, local time.

The diplomat spoke in the context of extended consultations among several Arab foreign ministers and the Arab League secretary general yesterday under the auspices of Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad Ben Jassem, whose country is the current chair of the Arab Foreign Ministers Council.

"There are not enough countries who are convinced that it is a good idea to freeze Syria's membership in the Arab organisation, and those who oppose are about eight countries [of the 22 member states] who are convinced that if you isolate Damascus you are antagonising the regime, rather than encouraging it to end the violence."

Today's ministerial meeting is supposed to revisit the situation in Syria where the regime has for the past eight months been violently suppressing demonstrators calling for political change and an end to the tenure of Bashar Al-Assad who came to power over a decade ago after his long-ruling father, Hafez Al-Assad, died.

The meeting will specifically examine possible action, in view of what most member states agree qualifies as the "failure" of the Syrian regime to honour commitments undertaken two weeks ago during an earlier Arab foreign ministers meeting to end violence against demonstrators.

In a briefing by a delegation of the Syrian National Transitional Council (SNTC) , foreign-based opposition figures asked the foreign minister to come to terms with the fact that the survival of the Syrian regime has become impossible, and that the time has come to send it a strong message from the Arab countries that enough is enough.

"We asked for the membership of the Syrian regime in the Arab League to be frozen, but we were not given a yes or no," said Bassma Qaddamani, head of the SNTC.

Qaddamani, who is based in Paris, also said that the delegation had demanded of the Arab foreign ministers to send an Arab and international fact-finding committee to Syria and to consider alternatives for "a tough position in face of the determination of the by now illegitimate Syrian regime to keep killing Syrian demonstrators."

Qaddamani was careful to stress that what the SNTC is proposing "is not at all similar to the Libyan scenario," where the Arab League froze the membership of Libya to retaliate against the savage brutality of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi's crackdown on Libyan demonstrators. The subsequent imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya by NATO helped armed Libyan rebels to put an end to 40 years of Gaddafi rule.

An Arab League diplomat told Ahram Online that the pan-Arab organisation is getting conflicting reports on the situation in Syria. He explained that the Syria-based opposition do not convey the same alarmist tone as the opposition outside Syria.

"This is one reason, I think, the foreign ministers are likely to agree to send a fact-finding committee to Syria to assess the situation there. We are not going to rush into ill-conceived decisions; the situation in Syria is not like what was happening in Libya," he said.

Such a resolution might be accepted by the Syrian regime, according to one Syrian diplomat who suggested that such a  committee "could reveal the volume of falsifications that some of the Arab satellite channels are involved in to tarnish the image of the Syrian regime."

It would also be likely accepted by the Syrian-based opposition whose members told Ahram Online that despite the brutal killing of innocent — and sometimes very young — demonstrators, the Syrian regime is not applying the same massive military tactics that Gaddafi applied before being toppled last month.

It is the Syrian opposition overseas that would not be impressed with such a resolution on the basis that it would lend some legitimacy to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, whereas they believe it has none.

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