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Monday, October 23, 2017

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The Arab League summit opened Wednesday in Jordan. Heads of government and state of 22 countries in West Asia and North Africa have assembled in the Dead Sea, a fitting name for a body that has struggled to be relevant in the conflicts that bedevil the region. Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the Secretary General of the League, said at the threshold of the summit that Arab governments should ‘work in every possible way to play a more active role in major crises.’

Aboul-Gheit, who mentioned Libya and Yemen as two examples, was more circumspect on Syria. What role the Arab states might play as a bloc here is unclear. Aboul-Gheit’s own Egypt is now fully behind the government of Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab states remain settled on the view that Assad has to resign. It is this divide not only on Syria, but also on Libya and Yemen that has made it impossible for the Arab League to drive an agenda. It is revealing that the ministers have indicated that ‘Arab solidarity’ is a priority for them. It would only be a priority if it were so threadbare.

Inside Syria

Fighting inside Syria continues with grave implications for its population. Gains by the Syrian Arab Army, the government’s force, and its proxies had been swift in the past few months. These forces seized Aleppo and opened a corridor all the way down to Damascus, as well as taking Palmyra from ISIS and other towns in southern Syria. An overstretched army, with little chance of revitalization from new recruits, left Damascus vulnerable. A motley group of rebels from the extremist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (which includes the al-Qaeda army) and the Faylaq al-Rahman forces dashed into parts of central Damascus. Heavy arms fire in central squares and along avenues of the city shocked residents, who had assumed that these parts of the city were not vulnerable to rebel advances.

Three explanations for this rapid advance have been put forward. First, that the Russians and Iranians as well as sections of the Syrian government are eager to get to Raqqa before the Turks and the United States. The deployment of forces in that region—and not in Damascus—left the city under threat. Nonetheless, the Syrian forces in the city rapidly beat back the rebels to their strongholds, such as in the enclave of Jobar and Eastern Ghouta. Second, that the Russians are eager for the Syrian government to make some kind of arrangement with the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, which Damascus is loathe to do. Somehow the Russians opened the door for this small advance to send a message to Assad that the political process needs to be taken seriously. Third, that the Gulf Arabs pushed their rebel proxies to strike inside Damascus before the Geneva V negotiations to show that they remain relevant on the ground. These are not mutually exclusive explanations, nor is one able to verify them fully. Intelligence services that spread these stories are less interested in what is happening than in how they want others to understand the events. It is a battle over narratives.

The Americans

It is reasonable to suggest that the Syrian civil war is effectively over. The battles will continue, but any real change in the balance of forces is not foreseeable. The war ended when Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States turned their backs on their various proxy armies inside Syria. Over-extension in Yemen, financial problems and failure of its proxy to make gains soured Saudi Arabia’s attempt to overthrow Assad. Turkey’s internal problems, its anxiety over Syrian Kurdish advances on its border and Turkish business interests with Russia pushed it to make a deal with the Iranians and the Russians. The United States, which had provided the most aggressive diplomatic push for the rebels, found it impossible to create a ‘moderate’ rebel army. The Russian entry into Syria in 2015 made a US ‘full spectrum domination’ strike on Syria impossible. Jordan closed its border, which made a southern rebel front impossible.

Without these external backers, the various rebel factions—including the extremist groups—can no longer hope to seize Damascus. This is why the High Negotiations Committee’s lead negotiator at the Geneva V talks—Mohammed Sabra—said, ‘There can be no real and viable political solution without the presence of the Americans.’ He did not, I believe, suggest that the Americans have to bomb Damascus. The full weight of reality has now swept through the political arm of the armed opposition. But what they would like is for the United States to push—once more—for their agenda:  namely, that Assad must resign and that the members of the Assad government must be tried for crimes against humanity.

Sabra, who is a lawyer, was a member of the opposition’s technical team for the 2014 Geneva talks. He is one of the leaders of the Syrian Republican Party, formed—it should be said—in 2014 in Istanbul with the encouragement and assistance of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party. The Muslim Brotherhood ties between the Turkish and Syrian parties are clear. That US President Donald Trump had considered a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood should send a message to Sabra of the impossibility of his position. He has few real allies in the White House.

Nonetheless, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations—Nikki Haley—made some sharp comments about Assad that echo Sabra. Assad is a ‘big hindrance in trying to move forward’, Haley said Wednesday. That sounded a great deal like the ‘Assad must go’ formula of the Obama administration. But then Haley stumbled—‘I’m not going back into should Assad be in or out. Been there, done that, right, in terms of what the US has done.’ This is not what Sabra and his friends would like: namely vacillation on Assad’s future role in Syria.

The Iranians

Curiously, Ambassador Haley said that the United States wants to make sure that ‘Syria can no longer be a safe haven for terrorists’ and that ‘we’ve got to get Iran and their proxies out.’ It demonstrates a distinct lack of strategic honestly to make such a statement, when the United States relies upon Iran to bolster the Iraqi army in its assault on Mosul. To link ‘Iran’ with ‘terrorism’ is an old Israeli trick, but one with little credibility when it comes to Iran’s actual operations on the ground.

Iran and Qatar have just conducted a deal to break terrible, intractable sieges on a number of Syrian towns. Iran has also been urging Assad and his government to stay at the negotiating table and to make real concessions to the opposition. Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, who was in Moscow early this week, has urged the players to return to Astana (Kazakhstan) for another round of discussions after the Geneva V meetings ended inconclusively. The Syrian opposition initially came to Astana, but then refused to participate in those talks. But it was at Astana last year that the Syrian government and opposition agreed to a major ceasefire—brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey—that remains the basis for the present ceasefire regime. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura recently called on Iran, Russia and Turkey to ‘undertake urgent efforts’ to strengthen the ceasefire. These three countries have played an important role in trying to pressure the Syrian government and the opposition to hold their fire and to widen the safe zones already in existence in Syria. Haley’s statement is far from the reality of the situation in Syria.

The Arabs

The Arab League’s politics on Syria has become almost entirely symbolic. It refused—once more—to fly the Syrian flag in its row of flags. There will be clichéd discussions on the conflict, with words thrown about between those who remain rhetorically committed to Assad’s departure and those who insist that he is part of the process. Meanwhile, there will be no discussion about the plight of the actual Syrians.

Syrians who flee their country either go into refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon or else seek asylum in the West. Where are the Gulf Arabs and other rich Arab states? They have not offered to welcome the millions of Syrians who are bereft. In 2014, Amnesty International produced an important report—Let Out in the Cold—that pointed to the failure of the Arab states to welcome even one Syrian refugee. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are not signatories of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, so they are not legally obliged to follow international law for their migrants.

Those Syrians who do find their way to the GCC states enter the web of the kafala or sponsorship system, where the rights of the migrants are minimal. GCC countries prefer to provide funds to the UN and others so that the refugees remain outside their fortress. ‘Assad must go’ is an easier slogan for them to chant than ‘Syrian refugees are welcome here.’

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.


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20 Responses to Major Arab States Leave Syrian Refugees ‘Out In The Cold’

  1. Where “leaving them out in the cold” still means they’re taking in literally millions more than the US is.

    • I watched an interesting program on CNN a few minutes ago, focused on the role that refugees are playing in parts of the country, mostly the Rust Belt, where manufacturing companies are having trouble finding American workers because of drug and alcohol addiction. Without refugees, who in some cases number about 25% of the workforce in some of those companies, the companies would have to either shut down, move elsewhere, or raise prices to attract American workers without a dependence on placebos, and willing to work hard. The drug and alcohol epidemic in the USA is worse than many politicians, and society at large, are willing to admit.

  2. The Middle East conflicts point out another stark reality of a disunity in the world, this time with regards to the followers of Islam. As in Christianity, where there are internecine bigotries being played out according of which sect one belongs to, the same divisive fault-lines are between Arab Sunni Muslims, and Iranian Shi`ah Muslims, including differences among Alawites in Syria, and Kurdish Muslims in Kurdistan Iraq, etc.

    The fighting in Syria and Assad’s systematic killing of his own citizens with help from Putin, and with the GOP and Trump’s complicity, Arab Muslims are large ignored by fellow Muslim nations in the region because of bigotries along religious sects or national border disputes and ethnic/tribal divisions.

    Trump, Bannon, and the GOP’s cold attitude adds to this frustration, but Arab nations really need to step back, reflect on the human suffering, and refer to the Message from the “Universal House of Justice” ‘s Message sent to each of the nations’ leaders and peoples in the region–as well, the same Message was sent to all other leaders across the world, and to the UN, back in 1985.

    For those Arab Muslims who might be reading this, the Message was an open letter to all of you, me, and others in the world, entitled “THE PROMISE OF WORLD PEACE”. It is worth our reviewing, or reading if you never did, in light of the affairs in the world today.

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  3. The ambivalence of so many Arab governments to the plight of innocent civilians in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya is not surprising or unprecedented. It is a reflection of the tribal and religious divide that has existed in those countries for centuries, between Sunnis, Shias, Alawites, Yemenis, and others. The animosity, and frequent acts of violence between these tribes or religious groups have been further aggravated in recent years by the involvement of the United States and Russia in favor or against regimes, the overt imposition of Western values on people determined to preserve their way of life, and the influence of special economic and political interests. Last, but not least is the contrast between the lavish lifestyle and abundance in some Arab countries, and the misery and desperation that prevail in neighboring countries. As it happens so often, the victims are mostly people who would much rather live in peace than the external and internal forces that pull the strings from behind the scenes.

    • What really gets to me, Dom, is groups like al-Quaida and DAESH have their origins in the Wahabi clerics that effectively control Saudi Arabia. Ever since the House of Saud started to consolidate power in the late 19th Century, they have relied on the support of the Wahabi, and in return offer financial protection and support to them. The Clerics who gathered the disparate individuals who make up those two organizations, desirous of imposing a vision of Islam that never existed but hearkens back to the similar Tridentine mindset of many Roman Catholic Clergy.
      Bringing refugees into Saudi Arabia would effectively be the way the Kingdom declares failure. Their pet rebels who were let loose from their master’s leashes have failed, and now the Saudis should have to pay for the crimes they committed.

      • Let’s not forget that 15 of the 19 terrorists that carried out the 9/11 attack were members of the Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia, or that the British man that carried out the recent massacre in London converted to Islam and became a radical while working as an English teacher in the Middle East. Some of our so called allies in that part of the world are despotic, radical, regimes determined to abuse their own people, and do everything they can to advance their ideological radicalism against their ancient foes, who are often not much better than they are. The ones that get caught in the middle are civilians trying to support their families, and hoping for a better future in an area where only violence and misery prevails. Needless to say, those despots are getting a lot of help from superpowers more interested in the achievement of geo-political goals, than the well being of people.

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  5. There are approximately 7.5 Billion people inhabiting Planet Earth. Do they all have the right to come to the United States?

      • That was the mildest of personal attacks, so I’ll reply. I get my news from multiple sources. So the question stands.

        • Hmmm yes all that healthcare and employment, the horror the horror

          Won’t someone think about the racists!

    • I spent 30 years overseas, and I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of foreigners have no interest whatsoever in coming here. Don’t confuse the desperation of refugees willing to go anywhere to survive and provide for their families, and those trying to escape violence and misery in Mexico and Central America, with the realities that prevail in the rest of the world. In answer to your question, no we should not open our doors to a mass exodus of people, but since that is not what is happening, debating such probability is not warranted.

        • You’re a climate-change denier who regularly bootlicking comments on the site of the Gateway Pundit, home to the Stupidest Man on the Internet.

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