What Assad’s future means for the West

The Arab League’s decision to readmit Syria rewards the brutality and betrayal of the victims of the Assad regime. It also confirms the marginalization of the United States and the irrelevance of Europe in a region marked by authoritarianism and ‘realpolitik’.

The group of Arab countries members of the Arab League has once again welcomed in its breast President Bashar al-Assad.

The largely unsuccessful 22-member Arab League had made the unusual decision to suspend Syria’s membership in 2011, when Assad launched a ruthless war against protesters demanding an end to his authoritarian rule.

Assad’s reinstatement is a major symptom of the growing impotence of Europe and the United States in a region plagued by instability, internal displacement, authoritarianism and a young generation lacking in economic and political prospects.

This event could also serve as a consolation and precedent for other authoritarian leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Subjected to a battery of Western sanctions and isolated in Europe by his brutal war against Ukraine, Putin has an open door in the Arab world. Russia’s violent military role in Syria and its support for Assad have provided Moscow with an important foothold and allies in the Middle East.

But Assad’s rehabilitation is also about impunity and the stark reality of realpolitik. “Arab states have put their cynical realpolitik and diplomatic agendas above humanity,” in words from Laila Kiki, executive director of The Syria Campaign, an international advocacy group. The move, she added, has “cruelly betrayed tens of thousands of victims of the regime’s war crimes and given Assad the green light to continue committing human rights violations with impunity.”

“The Arab League has used collateral damage to the wider region to justify its decision”

The magnitude of the violence and destruction is staggering. Since 2011, at least half a million people have died and 23 million have been displaced. Refugees have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Türkiye and Europe. Furthermore, a whole generation of children lacks education.

In this context, the Arab League has used collateral damage to the wider region to justify its decision, despite the fact that some members continue to oppose the move.

“The Syrian crisis has had very negative effects on neighboring countries. The border and regional countries, especially the Arab countries, feel that it is necessary to resolve this situation. That’s why we’ve reached this point.” stated to Al Jazeera the assistant secretary general of the Arab League, Hossam Zaki.

“The understanding that has been growing over the last few months, especially after the earthquake catastrophe (in Syria and Turkey), is that there is no clear international attention that is supposed to be driving a solution in Syria,” he added.

USA showed itself skeptical about the possibility of Assad ending the war. “We do not believe that Syria deserves to be readmitted to the Arab League at this time,” a US State Department spokesman said. They added that the sanctions on Syria would remain in place, although they did not deter Assad.

History is littered with examples in which leaders who have used ruthless repression of their citizens have been rehabilitated, or have escaped justice seeking the protection of other like-minded regimes, or have simply managed to cling to power through force (and to some degree). of realpolitik western).

There have been cases, such as the war in the former Yugoslavia or in Rwanda, after which special courts were created with the aim of seeking justice. It was also about giving the victims some hope that these courts ad hoc serve as a deterrent against future atrocities and indiscriminate killings.

In the case of Syria, so far, the International Criminal Court has not issued any arrest warrant against Assad, although it has against putin. Assad can be grateful to the Arab League for legitimizing and prolonging his rule. As for most members of the Arab League, they have cracked down on the pro-democracy movements that emerged during the short and ill-fated Arab Spring and have cracked down on Islamists. Political reforms do not seem to be on their agendas.

It is also hard to see how Assad’s return to the Arab League will have an impact on this divided and disputed country. Russia and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have bombed Syria in their fight for influence and a strategic position in the region. However, there is a new element that is entering the region: China. His recent role, notably mediating between arch-enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, brings a new dimension to the changing geostrategic dynamics of the Middle East.

In fact, the presence of Beijing highlights the absence of Europe – which was never a great player and has now been further reduced to irrelevance – and the political weakness of the United States’ role.

Their poor strategies – if they ever had any – were exploited at the start of the war in Syria by Damascus’ enemies and allies. Those neighbors and actors in the country will now have to calculate their next moves to end the war.

Several members of the Arab League see the decision to readmit Syria as a slap in the face to the West. Iran, which has also witnessed months of wave protests, I congratulate to Syria for having regained his position in the organization.

Russia was full of praise: “We start from the premise that the restoration of Syria’s participation in the operations of the (Arab League), being one of its founding countries, will facilitate a healthier environment in the Middle East region and the faster overcoming of the consequences of the Syrian crisis”, stated Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

It is highly unlikely that in this atmosphere there is room for justice. It is as improbable as it is that it will give rise to Western commitment and intervention.

Article translated from English from the website of Carnegie Europe.

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Written by Editor TLN

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