Arab League secretary-general to visit Damascus

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 28 Aug 2011

A recent ministerial-level Arab League meeting tiptoed around Syria, whose representative threatened that Secretary-General El-Arabi would not be received if his visit comes with warnings

Nabil el-Araby
Newly-appointed head of the Arab League, Nabil El-Arabi (Photo: Reuters)

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi is planning a trip to Damascus shortly, according to informed sources at the Cairo-based organisation. "He is planning to leave today, but it might take another day or two of consultations before the trip actually takes place," said the Arab League source.

The expected trip comes in the wake of a foreign minister-level Arab League meeting on Syria Saturday evening. Youssef Ahmed headed the Syrian delegation in Cairo on behalf of Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem, who didn’t attend.

The meeting resulted inconclusive in light of continued military attack on civilian protestors demanding an end to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. The organisation didn’t manage to define a collective Arab stance on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria.

Disagreements thwarted an attempt by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to get the AL ministerial meeting to adopt a communiqué that calls on the Al-Assad regime to immediately end its attack on Syrians or suffer economic and political reprimands from the Arab League.

According to a source who attended the meeting, the Syrian representative threatened that if the communiqué was adopted Damascus would not receive El-Arabi or any other envoy.

A Syrian diplomat who spoke to Ahram Online and asked for his name to be withheld, said that Syria is not prepared to be preached to by anyone on how to run its affairs. El-Arabi’s visit, he added, would be welcomed only as a mechanism of consultation, but not if El-Arabi is planning to come with any warnings.

A press conference that was supposed to be held at the headquarters of the Arab League following the close to four-hour closed meeting was abruptly cancelled with no explanation offered to the press.

Arab League sources say that El-Arabi decided to cancel the press conference to avoid being cornered with tough questions that might get him into making statements that could offend the Syrian regime and, consequently, complicate - or even cancel - his mission.

In a short statement that he made during the opening session of the ministerial meeting yesterday (Saturday) evening at the Arab League, El-Arabi made no direct reference to the situation in Syria. However, while welcoming the participation of Mohamed Gebril, the envoy of the National Transitional Council of Libya, the Arab League secretary general said that the success of the Libyan revolution should serve as a reminder to all Arab regimes that the call for reform that is being made by the Arab people is genuine and should be duly heeded without bloodshed.

Gebril himself made an indirect reference to the situation in Syria: that "no more Arab bloodshed should be allowed in any Arab country" where the people are making a legitimate demand for democracy and freedom.

Gebril expressed gratitude for the decision adopted by the Arab League last March to freeze Libya’s membership while still under the rule of the toppled colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Arab League’s decision to side with the people and not with dictators, Gebril said, was revolutionary. "It saved the Libyans from brutal massacres," he added, as it allowed for international support of the rebels and protection of innocent civilians.

During the past few days Qatar had been consulting for a similar move on Syria.

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