The Egyptian Initiative: Banking on Syrian Fatigue
By: Bisan Kassab
Published Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The Egyptian initiative for ending the Syrian crisis is based on the premise that both sides in the conflict are exhausted by the months of fighting, and on the involvement of their respective most important allies, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Cairo - The battle fatigue hitting the parties to the conflict in Syria is the main – and perhaps only – reason that might render the Egyptian initiative on the Syrian crisis successful. This is the opinion of Mustafa Abdul-Aziz, former deputy foreign minister and Egypt’s former ambassador to Damascus. Abdul-Aziz seems optimistic about the work of the quadripartite contact group which Cairo is seeking to set up to include, alongside Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.
Speaking to Al-Akhbar, the former Egyptian diplomat said that the ongoing “bleeding” of the Syrian opposition in the course of the daily battles, with the Syrian regime having given up on regaining control of the Syrian hinterland, means that fatigue on both sides is peaking and morale is at an all-time low.
According to Abdul-Aziz, these factors compel all sides to deal positively with the initiative and to attempt to find a political solution to the crisis. Abdul-Aziz went on to say, “Perhaps the role undertaken by the (joint UN-Arab envoy to Syria) Lakhdar Brahimi can assist the work of the group in this regard.”
A few days ago, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said on its website that Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr had phoned Brahimi, and that “[The] Foreign Minister stressed Egypt's full support to the task of Lakhdar Brahimi and Egypt's readiness to provide all possible assistance to stop the deteriorating conditions…either through exerting direct Egyptian effort or through Egypt's membership and active participation in all meetings of the Arab Ministerial Committee on the Syrian crisis.”
Abdul-Aziz downplayed the view that the contact group might crumble as a result of the expected polarization between Saudi Arabia and Iran, citing the success of Lebanon's civil war rivals in reaching the Taif Agreement. He says, “True, it is difficult to say for sure that the initiative will succeed. The contradictions among the parties in the contact group are of course an undeniable reality, but I believe that everyone will try to overcome the differences outside the Syrian issue – despite the divergent views on the latter between Saudi Arabia and Iran – in order to reach a feasible solution.”
Mustafa al-Labbad, director of al-Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies, believes that a quadripartite contact group that brings those parties, including Iran as the ally of the Syrian regime and Saudi Arabia, which supports the armed opposition, is a necessity and that there are no serious hurdles facing its work. For one thing, he says, “These two sides, as well as Turkey, are a part of the Syrian crisis, and it would be difficult to reach a solution without them being part of it.”
Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Labbad said that the signs of improvement in Egyptian-Iranian relationships enhance the chances of the initiative succeeding. Joint efforts between the two countries in the regional contact group may also mean, in turn, establishing a working climate that fosters mutual trust between Egypt and Iran, after a year-long estrangement. Mustafa Abdul-Aziz, however, believes that it would be premature to talk about an Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement.
Despite talk about four parties being involved in the initiative, sources confirmed to Al-Akhbar that Iran has requested that two other countries be included, namely Algeria and Iraq. The sources explained this request as being an attempt to create equilibrium in the contact group between the supporters of the regime in Syria and its opponents, and between those in the middle, such as Egypt and Algeria.
The Egyptian President will leave Beijing early Thursday after a three-day visit to China, and will head to Tehran to attend the opening session of the Non-Aligned Movement summit, according to a report by the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) on Saturday. MENA quoted Yasser Ali, the official spokesman for the Egyptian president, as saying that President Mursi will have no other engagements in Iran and that he would leave Tehran immediately after the end of the opening session of the summit.
While Mustafa al-Labbad rules out that Mursi’s visit to China, at this time, will have any relevance in relation to the Syrian crisis, the official website of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, stressed the importance of this visit. The website cited the party chairman Essam al-Erian, who said, “If the president succeeds in persuading China and Iran to put pressure on the Syrian regime to end its massacres and stop the bloodshed by Bashar al-Assad against its people, then this may pave the way for the proposed contact group to begin its work.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.