Monday, January 23, 2012

Arab League "get out of jail free" card for Assad

Say what you will about the impotence and Western bias of the Arab League, but its bold call to Assad to hand over power to his deputy, Farouk Al-Sharaa, and hold multi-party elections in six months is both wise and measured.

The Russians, who are deeply concerned about losing their only naval base in the Mediterranean and remaining client state in the Arab world, are unlikely to object to this compromise and potentially peaceful resolution to the crisis. Indeed, there are rumours that they had been consulted about this call beforehand.

If the stubborn mountain goats of Al-Qardaha do not seize this opportunity for a safe and gradual exit from dictatorship, then all bets are off.

The regime's strategy has, all along, been to turn peaceful protests into a "controllable" armed insurgency through gratuitous killings, incarceration and torture. Their aim has been to whip up and internationalise the domestic power struggle to the point where the Russians, Iranians and Chinese spring to their defence.

Time is running out for the regime but they are not yet totally desparate. They have refrained from attacking the "rebel-held" mountain town of Zabadani (north west of Damascus) to give the impression that they are losing control (to keep the Russians, Iranians and Islamophobes on edge). They have stage-managed suicide bombings in Damascus for the same reason. More importantly, they have refrained from using air power (presumably on advice from the Russians and learning from the Libyan experience) to keep the Americans, Turks and NATO at bay.

The Syrian National Council, led by the Paris-based Mr Burhan Ghalyoun, has been moving far too close to NATO while the National Coordination Committee (for Democratic Change) in Syria , led by the Cairo-based Mr Haitham Al-Mannaa, believes in peaceful dialogue and opposes any foreign intervention. The deep rift between these two opposition forces was beginning to play into the regime's hands. The Arab League's latest move may help to reconcile opposition agendas and potentially stem the bloodshed and pre-empt foreign intervention. It is a masterstroke in diplomacy and crisis management.

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