Arab League Summit: Doha Calls the Shots
Published Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Despite the failure of Arab League member-states to reach an agreement on giving Syria’s seat to the opposition National Coalition, Qatar nevertheless managed to impose its will on the League.
In its drive to bring about the downfall of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Qatar succeeded in granting the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Damacus’ seat at the March 26 Arab League Summit in Doha.
It didn’t matter that SNC president Moaz al-Khatib had resigned or the president of the opposition transitional government, Ghassan Hitto was hurriedly elected, prompting nearly a dozen members of the SNC to resign as a result.
Doha’s sheikhs are intent on forging ahead with their plan to chip away at the regime’s legitimacy – transferring it over to the SNC as quickly as possible – and to mobilize the necessary financial and military support the armed opposition needs to expand its territorial holdings.
Qatar’s attempts to speed up the transitional process by calling for what is in effect a parallel opposition government in Syria was tempered by reservations by several Arab countries, including Iraq, Algeria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon.
Nevertheless, the summit’s final statement welcomed the SNC’s assumption of Syria’s seat at the Arab League and recognized it as the “only legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
In particular, Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine found it difficult to adopt a position that severs all ties with the Syrian regime, given that its institutions remain largely intact and continues to run the affairs of a significant part of the population, not to mention that nine Arab countries still have diplomatic ties with Damascus.
Iraq, along with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, also raised questions about the hurried process in which Hitto was elected and the fact that he has yet to form a government, which has already failed to garner the support of many opposition groups, most notably the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Many Arab countries also fear that their military support for the opposition may end up reaching hardline Islamist elements that are antagonistic to most of the region’s governments. Nevertheless the summit’s statement did repeat the position declared previously by the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting that any member-state has the right to provide the opposition with the necessary wherewithal to defend itself including military support.
A statement signed by around 70 Syrian opposition figures, including Michel Kilo and Kamal al-Labwani, stating their reservations about the newly formed transitional government fell on deaf ears at the Doha summit.
The final summit statement even looks ahead to a post-Assad period, calling for a UN-sponsored conference for the reconstruction of Syria, delegating the Arab League office in New York to determine the time and place.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.