Syria in turmoilAdmin
The double veto by Russia and China seems to be a reminder to the United States and its allies that they alone do not have the right to meddle in international affairs. It is pertinent to recall that the US has consistently exercised its veto power to shield Israel from condemnation of its atrocities against Palestinians, writes Mohammad Amjad Hossain
BY VETOING the Arab League-backed UN resolution on Syria, Russia and China, two veto-wielding member of the Security Council, may have, in fact, given green signal to President Bashar al-Assad to continue with the killing of men, women and children in the Syrian town of Homs where anti-government protests began more than a year back. The crackdown on the protesters in Homs resembles the action taken by the late Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian president, to quell an uprising against his regime in 1982. The power of veto exercised by Security Council members itself is undemocratic. The double veto by Russia and China seems to be a reminder to the United States and its allies that they alone do not have the right to meddle in international affairs. It is pertinent to recall that the US has consistently exercised its veto power to shield Israel from condemnation of its atrocities against Palestinians.
The massacre in Homs last week by the pro-Bashar security forces followed after Russia and China had blocked a resolution against the Syrian government in the Security Council. The US president, Barack Obama, has condemned the ‘unspeakable assault’ and closed the US embassy in the Syrian capital. A wave of diplomatic boycott has, meanwhile, begun with 11 Gulf and European countries withdrawing their ambassadors from Damascus. Bashar al-Assad seemingly refuses to realise that it is the 21st century and, unlike in 1982, it is possible to make known any development anywhere in the world through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.
Meanwhile, two car bombs exploded in Aleppo, the commercial capital of Syria, near the military intelligence and security forces buildings on February 10, causing death to 28 people and injury to 235. The Bashar al-Assad regime was prompt to blame the carnage on the anti-government protesters, who it calls ‘armed terrorist gangs’. The explosion was the first such incident in Aleppo where two million people live. The prosperous business community of Aleppo is believed to be loyal to the regime.
During the recent visit of Russian foreign minister to Syria, the Bashar al-Assad government, in an apparent show of strength, lined up thousands of loyalists along the streets of Damascus as the convoy proceeded towards the presidential palace; they shouted slogans and carried placards and banners in support of the Syrian president and in praise of Russia for shielding Syria against UN pressure.
Meanwhile, Homs, the epicentre of anti-government protests, has remained besieged by tanks and military forces. Electric supply to some areas has reportedly been cut off and medicines for the wounded people are difficult to find. According to a report published in the Washington Post on February 10, an activist claimed over telephone that snipers have been posted on all the roofs of Baba Amr. It has turned into a city of ghosts. An activist of the Syrian Revolutionary Council told the CNN on February 10 that they had been consigned to a slow death. Such accounts suggest that the Bashar al-Assad regime is disposed to neither negotiation with the protesters nor opinion of the international community.
Having failed to push the UN resolution through, the 22-member Arab League at a meeting of the foreign ministers in Cairo on February 12 called on the Security Council to form joint peacekeeping forces for Syria and ask the Bashar al-Assad regime for an immediate ceasefire. Possibly this resolution will not succeed as Syria would not accept peacekeeping forces in its territory. Without Syria’s concurrence, the UN cannot deploy peacekeeping forces. Apart from this move, the Bashar regime is strongly condemned by member states of the General Assembly of the United Nations on February 16. Only 12 countries including China and Russia voted ‘no’ while 17 countries abstained in the voting an Arab League-sponsored resolution. It supports an Arab League plan to facilitate a Syrian-led transition to a democratic pluralistic political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations, or ethnicities or beliefs, through the commencement of a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition in accordance with the Arab League timetable. Incidentally, this plan was rejected by the Bashar regime in January. While the resolution adopted by the General Assembly is non-binding, it shows that Syria has become isolated. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has in the meantime urged all powers to resolve the Syrian crisis regionally.
While this international tug of war is ongoing, Bashar al-Assad in a dramatic move has announced to hold a referendum on draft constitution on February 26 wherein fair and free general election to form a government is promised. It dropped article 8 from the old constitution declaring that the Baath Party is no longer the leading political party. It also pledges to introduce a pluralistic party system and acknowledges the concept of human rights. The draft constitution also imposes restriction on the president, stipulating that no one can be elected for more than two terms of seven years. It seems to be modelled on the French constitution under Charles De Gaulle, the founder of the Fifth Republic. The Syrian draft constitution apparently has the green signal from Kremlin.
There are certain points which need to be studied thoroughly and debated. While the presidential power remains almost intact, the security apparatus is above law. It will never be brought under justice if any highhandedness takes place by security agents. A Syrian who was expelled and has been living abroad for a period of ten years is barred from contesting in the presidential elections. The timing for thorough debate is limited. Over and above, the situation in Homs town remains tense. Therefore, the timing for holding a referendum may not be suitable.
Syria is not Libya. Syria is culturally and ethnically diverse where many religious groups live while Libya is more or less a homogenous society. Geopolitics dictates different path from Libya. Syria is surrounded by Israel, Lebanon, which did not go along with the Arab League against Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, another Shiite majority country in the region. Syria’s close relationships with Russia, a major supplier of arms and ammunition to the Syrian regime, Iran, another Shiite majority country, and Hezbollah of Lebanon, also add peculiar dimension to the present complex situation and poses a threat of sectarian war involving Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Sunni-dominated countries in the region. Since both Russia and China are opposed to military intervention, it is wise to resolve the conflict by Turkey in cooperation with other NATO power since Turkey is having serious humanitarian problem as a result of exodus of refugees from Syria.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former president of the Nova chapter of the prestigious Toastmasters International Club, writes from Virginia.