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The Arab League’s Hypocritical Suspension of Syria

On Wednesday, the Arab League confirmed the suspension of Syria from the organization, and gave the Syrian government three days to halt violence, else face sanctions.

This news came as the Arab League on Saturday voted to suspend Syria’s membership. The move was gutsy, and was designed as a rebuke to President Bashar al-Assad’s continuing crackdown on Syrian protesters. The decision was also highly hypocritical, as the Arab League conveniently forgot about the human rights abuses of legitimate protestors in other countries, such as in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The real reason for the suspension is the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) push, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to isolate Iran. By putting pressure on Iran’s closest ally, Syria, the GCC is trying to ensure its supremacy in the Middle East.

The suspension was ostensibly carried out after the failure of an earlier Arab League initiative on November 2 to stem the violence gripping Syria. The next day saw up to 20 people dead in an affirmation that Assad’s government had no intention of honoring the agreement. The reality, however, is that the GCC pushed for Syria’s suspension, demanding it nearly a month before the matter was brought to the Arab League. 

In Syria, pro-government supporters showed exactly who they felt was to blame for Syria’s suspension. The night after the resolution was voted on, four embassies were attacked. Of the four, only two are in the Arab League. Those two states are Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the leading members of the GCC.

The high numbers that voted for the resolution showed the GCC’s strength. The only countries that voted against the suspension were Lebanon, which is politically tied to Syria, and Yemen, with President Ali Abdullah Saleh conscious Yemen could next be suspended. Iraq abstained and immediately denied it did so at the behest of Iran.

A look at the Arab League’s recent decisions supports the idea that it follows the lead of the GCC. The Arab League approved a no fly-zone in Libya only after it was approved by the GCC. The Arab League supported an attempt at a peaceful transfer of power in Yemen, which was brokered by the GCC. It should be noted that whereas Yemen is a member of the Arab League, it is not a member of the GCC.

The vote was full of hypocrisy, however, especially when considering the case of Bahrain. What was the Arab League’s response to the ongoing protests in Bahrain earlier this year? Silence, as the GCC sent in troops to assist the government. And what was its response to human rights violations in eastern Saudi Arabia? Crickets. 

If the reason wasn’t human rights, why did the GCC, and by extension the Arab League, suspend Syria? The GCC wishes to politically isolate Iran. Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have condemned protests in their respective countries as being a foreign plot, with Iran as the culprit. This charge is a bit amusing, as Syria regularly claims its troubles are caused by a foreign plot.

The Assad family is well known for its alliance with Iran, and being able to take out Iran’s biggest supporter in the Arab World would be a major coup for the GCC. While there are no guarantees, it is likely that any government that follows Assad would not be such a staunch ally of Iran, especially as any new government would have to look inward to stabilize the country before it could take a serious approach to foreign policy.

What we are seeing now in the Arab League is not a sudden concern for human rights, but the birth of a rubber stamp parliament for the GCC.

Photo Credit: lokha

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