Rhein on Energy and Climate

At an emergency meeting on Syria held in Cairo October 16th the Arab League foreign ministers have called for an immediate end of violence and invited the Syrian government and opposition forces to urgently engage in a dialogue. They fell short of suspending Syrian membership, as they had done in February with Libya in protest against the regime`s crackdown on demonstrators.

Unlike Libya, Syria has always been a respected heavyweight in Arab politics. Suspending the present Syrian government from participating in the League`s activities therefore constitutes a delicate issue. Moreover, the Syrian regime continues to have important “friends” like Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Yemen, which for various reasons are loathe to kick out the Bashar Assad regime from the Arab League and thereby undermine its international credibility even further.

It was therefore understandable that the foreign ministers limited themselves to another call for dialogue and “cease fire.

But are meaningful reforms by the present regime possible? Will the opposition halt its peaceful demonstrations, which are the only weapon at its disposal? Most of the opposition rightly insist on far-reaching political reforms which the regime seems incapable of adopting. The chances for constructive meetings between opposition and regime appear slim, especially if they were to take place under the auspices of the Arab League.

The mere discussion on suspending the membership of a major Arab League country would have been inconceivable a year ago; it shows the profound impact the Arab spring has had on the political realities in the Arab world . The Arab League will no doubt have to deliberate again on Syria before the end of the year. The parliamentary elections held in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt by then are bound to reinforce the pressure on Syria.

In the absence of at least some meaningful reforms by the Syrian regime the Arab League will hardly have a choice but to suspend Syrian membership, which it can do by majority. Otherwise it will lose some of its newly acquired legitimacy in the Arab world and on the international scene.

Through its enhanced role in intra-Arab political affairs it could become a much closer political partner for the EU. In future, Arab League and EU should consult much more intensively and try to align their positions on issues of mutual interest .

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