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Arab League reverses decision on Syria

Feb 06,2019 - Last updated at Feb 06,2019

Eight years ago, the Arab League suspended Syria's membership as it did Libya's.

Both decisions were wrong, not just because they violated the league’s charter, but because by doing so, the body circumvented any possibility of addressing two major Arab crises in a responsible and constructive manner, in accordance with its mandate.

But the Arab ministers who approved the decision to dismiss Syria and threaten sanctions must have believed they were right.

If so, why are they reversing the decision now if the very same regime the Arab League wanted to punish has managed to survive eight catastrophic years of war, foreign intervention, destruction and loss of life?

Despite the enormous misery caused by the war, nothing has changed in Syria. The regime that deserved to be shunned and targeted for removal is the one now being rehabilitated, as if nothing had happened.

It is as if hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost, the destruction of historic cities as the Syrian government fought to retake them, the displacement of half the population of the country and the most heinous atrocities by terrorists and militias armed and financed to the tune of billions by many foreign and regional powers do not matter.

How could such violations of international law, flagrant aggression, war crimes and open support for the most brutal terror organisations go without accountability? Does a war of this magnitude not deserve credible and objective international investigation to determine the responsibilities of the perpetrators, indeed of all the participants, including the Syrian government?

And there must be accountability for the external forces that seized on legitimate grievances of Syrians to pursue their own destructive agenda to topple yet another regime in the region.

The United States and its European and regional allies poured at least a billion dollars of weapons into Syria; though supposedly meant to fight terrorism, much of which reached the hands of terror groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, and even Daesh. Israel, which claimed to be playing a "humanitarian" role in the Golan Heights, has acknowledged from the mouths of senior generals persistent reports that it was arming Al Qaeda-linked groups.

Let us be clear: Had the regime been overthrown as a result of this meddling and intervention, Syria would have become another failed state, like Libya, and before it Iraq, and a nucleus for untold further regional chaos and devastation.

Should we not derive lessons from such a massive malfunction of our international system so that such disasters can be prevented in the future?

The question is not whether Syria should return to Arab League membership. That is a minor matter given that the league long ceased to have any real use. There is no reason to believe that the Syrian government suffered by being suspended from the league. Nor does it stand to gain very much from having its membership restored.

The Arab League has been steadily deteriorating to the point that it lost its direction. It has no power and no effect on the course of the Arab collectivity, if there even is such a thing.

Of course, the league's authority could only be maintained by its members' unity of purpose and action. That ceased to exist decades ago with several member states going to war against each other.

In most cases, the league was forced to take sides, on the side of the influential members, rather than acting on its charter requirement to try to resolve disputes peacefully.

In Syria, not only did foreign powers intervene in the country illegally to support armed rebels and groups linked to Al Qaeda, but as noted, some Arab countries were major players.

The conspiracy was large and determined. Although it hid behind the pretext that it was supporting the Syrian opposition demanding political reform and democracy, the goal from the start was regime change and destruction of the state as happened in other countries in the region.

As such, the first victim was the Syrian national opposition that could have negotiated constructively with the government had the issue remained within the Syrian family.

Ultimately, the Arab League is right to seek accommodation with Syria but not by glossing over the ugly past. That would only guarantee that the Arab organisation remains at best useless and without authority or legitimacy, and at worst, a partner in sowing further war and destruction in the region.

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