As people in the Arab world continue to voice opposition to dictatorial regimes, their leaders remain mostly silent. Though formerly quiet members of the international community have spoken out against the violence in Syria, the latest country to witness a significant anti-regime uprising and subsequent security crackdown, the Arab League has remained silent.Actually, the Arab League was pretty early in its condemnation of Libya, before NATO airstrikes. I think it was that at the time, right after Egypt and Tunisia, it appeared that by choosing the Libyan protesters they felt they were backing the strong horse.
Turkey is positioning itself as a mediator between the Syrian government and the protesters, hosting opposition activists for The Conference for Change in Syria this week, and the EU and US have passed sanctions against the Syrian leadership. Many however, are left wondering why the Arab states, which condemned the government crackdown against dissenters in Libya and kicked the country out of the Arab League, are keeping mum on the Assad regime.
According to Dr. Hilal Khashan, professor of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut, the Arab League is not an autonomous entity, and thus never acts on its own. “It intervened on Libya because of Western pressure, because NATO and the US needed to legitimatize their intervention against [Colonel Muammar] Qaddafi,” he said. But the West doesn’t seem very keen on repeating the action, he added, especially not in Syria.
To Egyptian activist and executive director of Cairo-based Arab Forum for Alternatives Mohammad Agati, the question isn’t about Arab silence, but rather its intervention in Libya in the first place. “A typical Arab League does not take any stances,” he said. “If anything, they usually bolster regimes.”
Most experts NOW Lebanon spoke with confirmed that view. Because the majority of the region’s regimes are autocracies, few leaders want to see any of their counterparts get toppled.
“In addition to [their fear of a] domino effect, Syria is regarded as an anchor state and microcosm of the entire Arab East,” explained Khashan. “An authoritarian leadership, a business class, a divisive society, as well as religious and ethnic divisions; if Syria goes down, the entire region will be affected… No one in the Arab League is willing to see Assad go,” he said. When asked whether the Arab states are hoping the Assad regime will tame the protests, no matter how many people are killed, he said, “I hate to agree, but that is the case.”
In Syria, since it is not clear at all that the protesters will win, the Arab League doesn't want to get involved without making itself look even more irrelevant.