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Assad speech coming

According to Al Arabiya, President Bashar al Assad will give a national address on recent developments in Syria.  The Arab League, which has suspended Syria’s membership and sent in a mission to encourage peaceful resolution to Syria’s internal dissent, is now being criticized by the opposition in Syria.

The [Syrian National Council] expressed disappointment at the “slowness and reluctance of the Arab League in implementing the Arab plan, which clearly states the need for the military to return to their barracks, release all detainees, authorize peace demonstrations and give access to observers and journalists.”

The umbrella group made up of Arab and Kurdish nationalists, Marxists and independents urged the League to “immediately” begin talks with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on proposing the Arab peace plan to the Security Council to “prevent procrastination.”

It called for “the protection of civilians by all legitimate means in the context of international humanitarian law, including the establishment of safety and no-fly zones.”

Within the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China have already demonstrated a willingness to veto resolutions allowing for military intervention in Syria.  It may be that such actions must come out of the Arab League itself.  However, despite the hints that are out there, it seems incredibly unlikely to me that the Arab League could succeed in coordinating the use of force in Syria.

Arab League officials said the future of the monitoring mission, due to make a full report on Jan. 19, depended on the Syrian government’s commitment to ending the daily bloodshed.

“If the … report comes out saying the violence has not stopped, the Arab League will have a responsibility to act on that,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference after the Cairo meeting.

Tunisia, Israel, and Syria – varying degrees of progress

Our resident Tunisia expert, Rob Prince, posted on his blog a few days ago about the Tunisian elections.  If you haven’t already read it, you need to stop and do so!

Meanwhile, Israel continues to ignore international consensus on the matter of settlements, and is going to put more in East Jerusalem.  Given past statements from Obama condemning further settlements, these actions by Israel can also be viewed as a failure of the US president to control an ally.  So much for good momentum toward peace following the Shalid swap.

Also, apparently the Arab League and Syria reached an agreement on how to wind down the violence in Syria.  Personally, I’m cynical that this matters.  The experience of Ali Abdullah Saleh in working with the GCC makes me skeptical that anything positive will come from working with the even more entrenched Assad.  From the New York Times article:

The Arab League called on Mr. Assad to withdraw security forces from the streets, release prisoners who had been detained since February and allow Arab monitors to enter the country. The initiative also calls for Syria to negotiate with the opposition, though terms of the talks remain unclear. Syria has resisted negotiating outside Damascus, its capital, fearing that a foreign locale will give the opposition more credibility.

And questions persist over precisely what opposition it would recognize — figures it has cultivated within the country who have stopped short of calling for Mr. Assad’s fall, or an exiled opposition that has claimed to speak on behalf of the uprising.

“Bashar al-Assad’s comments suggest that he is against the Arab proposal,” said Samir Nachar, a prominent figure with the exiled opposition. “Until now all the indications are negative. I think this is an attempt to buy time on behalf of the regime.”

Syrians support Assad

A rally of thousands took place in Damascus today in support of President Bashar al Assad, according to Al Jazeera.  This is one of those healthy instances where it is useful to step back and make sure what we think we know is right.  There have not been major protests against Damascus yet, and hardly any in Aleppo.  Much of the opposition to the Assad regime is coming from outside the country.  The army remains loyal.  Christians are firmly in the Assad camp.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nir Rosen, journalist and author, said: “We might not like to think that but authoritarian regimes sometimes have popular support.

“In the whole of the Arab countries, certainly the Syrian regime has the largest base of popular support and much of the country still supports him [Assad].

“Not only Alawite and the Christian community, but even Sunni Bourgeoisie in Damascus and Aleppo support President Assad.”

“They may be afraid of the unknown, or the civil war, or they may genuinely believe that Assad has done good stuff for the country.

I said last week that I agree with Russia and China’s decision to use their veto against a resolution designed to put pressure on the Syrian regime, and possibly provide a first step toward armed intervention.   Syria is, in the view of many in the West, illegitimate and repressive.  A key component to that being reason enough to pursue regime change is the narrative of Syrians feeling trapped and thirsting for change.  If you take away that narrative, or exchange it for one in which the majority of Syrians approve of the regime, then the legitimacy of an aggressive policy toward Syria is stolen away.  Agree? Disagree?

Peace Prizes, Russia

A Yemeni woman is one of three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.  BBC News reports that Tawakul Karman was awarded the prize for her work in advancing the right’s of women and her courageous efforts to bring peace and democracy to Yemen during the Arab spring. A splice of the article:

Speaking to the BBC in April 2011 in Change Square in Sanaa, the heart of the popular demonstrations against Mr Saleh, Ms Karman said she was astonished at the protests: “I could never imagine this. In Yemen, women are not allowed out of the house after 7pm, now they are sleeping here. This goes beyond the wildest dream I have ever dreamt, I am so proud of our women.”

She is a member of Yemen’s leading Islamist opposition party, the Islah – a conservative, religious movement that calls for reform in accordance with Islamic principles.

She has campaigned to raise the minimum age at which women can marry in Yemen.

She has been jailed several times for her activism, pilloried in the official media and attacked. Unusually for a woman in Yemen, Ms Kamran wears a headscarf not a full face veil.

I sort of stopped paying attention to the Nobel Peace Prize when President Obama won one for giving a good speech, but I feel good about this one.  (And don’t get me started on the Nobel Prize for Literature)

In other news, Russia’s President Medvedev spoke about his state’s use of its veto on a Security Council resolution aimed to put pressure on the Syrians.  Al Arabiya explains that Medvedev is critical of the Syrian government, but does not want change to be externally applied.  It also notes that

The Kremlin chief had previously accused some in the Syrian opposition of having ties to “terrorists” in comments underscoring the extent of Russia’s divide with the West in the closing months of his term.

which is something that I had not heard before.  Certainly, the outcome of Russia’s acquiescence to the Libya resolution, which has now transformed into proactive war to achieve regime change, makes Russia incredibly reluctant to allow the same types of resolutions to pass against Syria.

Saudi Arabia has a flare up, China and Russia take a stand on Syria

This may or may not be ominous, but in Saudi Arabia there were some isolated riots in the oil-rich coast city of Qatif, according to Al Jazeera.  Details are limited.  The Saudis are blaming the riots on foreign instigators; it is likely that they have Iran in mind.  The article I’ve linked is frustrating in that it is ambiguous, seemingly hinting that we may be dealing with a powder keg, and equally likely that we are dealing with nothing.  Certainly, among all of the states in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the most likely candidate for the United States to aggressively support the government in quelling protests that cause instability and order.

Al Jazeera is also reporting on the Chinese and Russian veto of a UN resolution that sought to condemn Syria and create minor actions against the Assad regime.

“The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security,” Susan Rice, the US ambassador, said, condemning countries that “would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime”.

For months, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa – the BRICS countries – have criticised the US and European council members for allegedly allowing NATO to overstep its Security Council mandate to protect civilians in Libya.

Personally, I’m inclined to agree with the position taken by China and Russia on this one.  The likelihood of this resolution peacefully resolving conflict in Syria while still allowing the Assad regime to keep power is low.  Rather, its intention is to lay groundwork for eventual regime change.  I suppose that in my own view I am hypocritical, as I would like to see regime change in Syria, but do not believe the West should be the catalyst.  Yet without the West as catalyst, Assad’s regime would have to be incredibly inept to not eliminate the present challenge to its regime.  If we intend on interfering with Syrian sovereignty to the degree of achieving regime change, there had better be an explanation of how such action is a national security imperative than what was offered regarding Libya.  Do you all agree?  Consider also Ambassador Rice’s point, that the veto prevents the international community from preventing human rights violations in Syria.  Do you believe that a UN resolution could have been the critical factor in stopping human rights violations as Syria carries out a campaign to quiet activists?

Tidbits

It was a busy day around the region.

  • Israeli settlers vandalized and burned a mosque, an action that Netanyahu has condemned
  • US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reaffirmed the US commitment to maintaining a militarily superior Israel, although he questioned Israel’s diplomatic isolation
  • Israel has signaled that it is willing to return to negotiations sponsored by the US, UN, EU, and Russia, although Palestinians are skeptical that any progress can be made
  • In Egypt, the country’s military leadership has agreed to amendments to the election laws, changes called for and endorsed by the country’s anti-Mubarak political elements
  •  Libyan transnational government forces (we’re calling them that instead of rebels now I guess) are pressing in on pro-Gaddafi forces in Sirte, one of a few strongholds of Gaddafi remaining
  • In ongoing upheavals, Bahrain has sentenced participants in protests to lengthy jail terms, Syria has been rounding up thousands of citizens to quell protests, and Yemeni youth don’t just want Saleh out as president, but want criminal charges pressed against him as well
  • There was a terrifying attack in Iraq, in which Sunni insurgents took hostages at a police station.  Several hostages and a police chief were killed before Iraqi forces recaptured the building, killing the militants.  This bit of ties to the piece from Dean Hill from yesterday, as he brought up the matter of Sunni insurgents, whose funding, objectives, and strategy are harder to pin down than their Sunni counterparts
So, there is a lot happening, although I don’t know if any of it can be considered as a major development.  I guess that for me the most interesting thing is Panetta’s statements, and the context of the attack in Iraq.

Syria, Dean Hill

It’s the weekend so this will be short:

In Turkey, a group of Syrian nationals is attempting to organize an official resistance, which they hope will provide a focal point for those Syrians who are afraid of the absence of alternatives to Assad, according to Al Jazeera.  I’m not sure if this will make a big difference though.  The article also notes that the number of deaths in Syria since March is up to 2,700.  Crazy.

Also in Al Jazeera, Dean Hill has written an opinion piece.  In it, he discusses the unintended consequences of the Arab Spring, basically its more negative outcomes, as well as the matter of Sunni insurgents in Iraq.  Here’s a slice:

Today, the insurgency, violent as it can be from time to time, is not supported by anything close to a majority of Iraqis, if it ever was. Insurgents hold no land or cities, unlike before, and, while many Sunnis chafe at life under a prime minister who leads a Shia-based political party, they have for the most part accepted the new reality and have focused on getting as much as they can from it. Can this be said of all Sunnis in the rest of the Arab world?