Arab spring stuck in Syria
Meanwhile, all eyes are focused on the Obama administration for taking drastic action against the Syrian regime like in Libya. Many members of the Republican Party, including Senator McCain and presidential hopeful of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, are very critical of President Obama for his passive role in the crisis, writes Mohammad Amjad Hossain from Virginia
THE Arab Spring for democratic revolution, which began its journey in North Africa’s Tunisia in 2010, is apparently stuck in Syria. Despite UN resolutions for ceasefire and withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from different troubled spots, Syrian troops continue their operation against dissident Syrians. The UN peace plan, brokered by joint UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, is not being fully implemented, which President Bashar Al-Assad accepted on March 27. The Kofi Annan plan, which includes calls for Syrian political reform, a UN-supervised cessation of violence, providing humanitarian assistance, release of prisoners, free movement of the press and the right to peaceful demonstrations, has not achieved effective results.
Against the backdrop of repressive measures on opposition groups and innocent people of Syria, there has been growing pressure on the Syrian regime by western powers. They have begun expelling diplomats of the Assad regime. Declaring the Syrian government responsible for the slaughter of more than 100 people—mostly women and children—in the town of Houla, state department of the United States of America gave top Syrian diplomat 72 hours to leave. This was followed by Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Turkey and several other countries. The expulsion of top diplomats came as Kofi Annan tried to salvage the peace plan, pleading with president Bashar to honour a cease-fire. Bashar Al-Assad’s regime also took action by declaring foreign diplomats in Syria as persona non-grata, in defiance of the western powers, including the US ambassador. A tit for tat game is being played by the Bashar Al-Assad regime.
In spite of recent claims by the office of Kofi Annan that the UN backed peace plan is on track and that the crisis that has been going on for more than a year was not going to be resolved in a day or a week, 33 Syrians were reportedly killed in renewed violence across the country and heavy weapons are seen in populated areas. In Hama, Syrian troops used gunfire to disperse anti-government protesters; troops reportedly opened fire on demonstrators outside a mosque in Jubar, near Damascus; rounded up hundreds of students from the largest city, Aleppo; stabbed to death several suspected opposition figures. In retaliation the rebels killed more than a dozen Syrian troops in an ambush in Aleppo, on the second week of May. UN peace keeping chief Herve Ladsous said Syrian troops had still not withdrawn their heavy weapons from cities and continued to shell civilian areas.
The UN has authorised a force of 300 monitors, but so far only 30 are in place. The latest massacre of 116 civilians, including 22 children, in Houla village in northern Homs, on May 25, has caused serious concerns in the Security Council. The Bashar Al-Assad regime has conveniently passed the blame on to Al-Qaeda groups in Syria, while opposition groups blame the Bashar regime and demanded the Untied Nations to stop the violence of the government forces and start dialogue for political process. They said UN sponsored peace plan did not yield any positive results.
In a unanimous resolution, 15 Security Council members came out with a statement condemning the killing of 116 civilians in Houla. According to a report published in the Washington Post of May 28, there appears to be conflicting reports emanating about the massacres. Villagers admitted the fact that the Syrian army began punitive shelling on rebel forces when two army officers were killed. When the army left Shabiha, Assad’s minority Alawite Shia sect, who live in 5 villages near Houla village, attacked homes of Sunnis and massacred them ruthlessly. If there is an iota of truth in the story, it seems that the possibility of civil war between minority Alawite Shia and majority Sunni community cannot be ruled out.
The statement by the Security Council on May 27 speaks of the failure of the UN monitoring mission to halt violence in Syria or lead to political dialogue with opposition groups. This also signals the opposition by both Russia and China in favour of the Syrian regime. This was the first time both Russia and China sided with the majority in the Security Council, condemning the attacks. This is apparently not the case, as has been reflected in joint statement issued on June 6, on the conclusion of a state visit to China by the newly elected Russian president Vladimir Putin. Both the Russian and Chinese leaders are opposed to change of regime or resolving the crisis in Syria by foreign military intervention. Both Russia and China support the Annan plan to resolve the crisis in Syria. The alignment between Moscow and Beijing has been further strengthened after Vladimir Putin takes over presidency of Kremlin.
British foreign secretary William Hague’s visit to Moscow, on May 28, to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, to put pressure on Bashar Al-Assad to step down and accept the responsibility for the massacres of Syrians, did not have any positive impact. Moscow holds the opinion that comprehensive political reform should be carried out by the Syrian regime, but the violence must be stopped by armed Syrian opposition groups. Kofi Annan plan ,as endorsed by Russia and Syria as well, includes calls for Syrian political reform, a UN supervised cessation of violence, providing humanitarian assistance, release of prisoners, free movement of the press and the right to peaceful demonstrations, but has had no effective results. Moscow, under no circumstances, will put pressure on Bashar Al-Assad to quit unless Moscow’s interests, both strategic and economic, are ensured in Syria.
Meanwhile, all eyes are focused on the Obama administration for taking drastic action against the Syrian regime like in Libya. Many members of the Republican Party, including Senator McCain and presidential hopeful of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, are very critical of President Obama for his passive role in the crisis. President Obama urged both Russian and Chinese authorities to persuade Bashar Al-Assad to step down from presidency and hand over power to a transitional government. As of now, the results are not effective. However, US joint chief of staff General Martin Dempsey gave a warning by saying that military intervention could not be ruled out if atrocities continued.
The situation in Syria should not be compared to that of Libya. No chunk of land is under occupation by opposition groups of Syria, like Benghazi was in Libya. Apart from the Alawite Shia minority, Bashar Al-Assad is supported by the minority Christian community and a rich faction of the Sunni community in Syria. Syrian neighbour Lebanon will remain non-committal against the Bashar Al-Assad régime. Moreover, the Syrian army is powerful in the region, equipped with long range missiles. It is dominated by the Alawite Shia minority. Secretary General of NATO has also made it clear that NATO would not get involved in the Syrian crisis. Above everything, Syrian opposition National Council is in internal conflict. Many of the exiled leaders have no influence or contact in Syria because they have been residing abroad for many years. Now, Paris based academician Burhan Ghalious, former chairman of the National Council, has been replaced by Abdul Baset Sieda, a Kurdish activist. This picture does not speak well for the opposition group. And without the support of Moscow and Beijing there would be no solution to the crisis and the Arab Spring will remain stuck in Syria.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain is a retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former President of Nova chapter of prestigious Toastmasters International Club.
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