The opposition takes Syria’s seat at the Arab League summit

The Syrian National Coalition has taken Syria’s seat at the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar. The Arab League suspended the government of President Bashar al-Assad in November 2011 for its violent crackdown against the opposition. Assad accused the Arab League of handing the seat to "bandits and thugs." Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib led the delegation ...

AFP/Getty Images/KARIM SAHIB
AFP/Getty Images/KARIM SAHIB
AFP/Getty Images/KARIM SAHIB

The Syrian National Coalition has taken Syria's seat at the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar. The Arab League suspended the government of President Bashar al-Assad in November 2011 for its violent crackdown against the opposition. Assad accused the Arab League of handing the seat to "bandits and thugs." Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib led the delegation to the summit and was joined by the newly elected Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto. Khatib had initially tendered his resignation as head of the coalition, but later retracted, saying he will stay as long as certain "red lines" are not reached. At the meeting, Khatib said that he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to provide Patriot surface-to-air missiles to help protect opposition-held territory in northern Syria from government airstrikes. He said the United States is failing in its duty to protect civilians and should play a bigger role to end the two-year conflict in Syria. Meanwhile, the United Nations is pulling about half of its foreign staff members out of Syria over security concerns. Additionally, the United Nations asked about 800 local staff members to work from home. In the central city of Homs, government forces have reclaimed the Baba Amr neighborhood after two weeks of escalated fighting. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian army also bombarded several towns in the southern province of Daraa on Tuesday.

The Syrian National Coalition has taken Syria’s seat at the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar. The Arab League suspended the government of President Bashar al-Assad in November 2011 for its violent crackdown against the opposition. Assad accused the Arab League of handing the seat to "bandits and thugs." Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib led the delegation to the summit and was joined by the newly elected Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto. Khatib had initially tendered his resignation as head of the coalition, but later retracted, saying he will stay as long as certain "red lines" are not reached. At the meeting, Khatib said that he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to provide Patriot surface-to-air missiles to help protect opposition-held territory in northern Syria from government airstrikes. He said the United States is failing in its duty to protect civilians and should play a bigger role to end the two-year conflict in Syria. Meanwhile, the United Nations is pulling about half of its foreign staff members out of Syria over security concerns. Additionally, the United Nations asked about 800 local staff members to work from home. In the central city of Homs, government forces have reclaimed the Baba Amr neighborhood after two weeks of escalated fighting. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian army also bombarded several towns in the southern province of Daraa on Tuesday.

Headlines

  • Egypt ordered the arrest of five political activists on Monday on charges of using social media to incite aggression against the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s headquarters were attacked in Cairo on Friday night.
  • After an appeal by President Obama to resume peace talks, Israel will resume tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority which were suspended after the November 2012 U.N. statehood recognition vote.
  • Saudi Arabia has threatened to ban popular encrypted messaging services such as Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp and demanded a way to monitor such applications.
  • An Israeli and a Norwegian tourist were released on Tuesday after being abducted last week by armed Bedouins in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. 

Arguments and Analysis

Merry-go-round (The Daily Star)

"In the wake of the collapse of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, everything points in the direction of sitting down to engage in dialogue to chart the coming phase. Everyone is well aware of the pressing, pending issues that the country faces, and these can be boiled down to things such as the security situation, the national economy, the parliamentary election law, and the status of high-ranking security and military officials.

Obviously, the post-2005 era has seen two phases of the National Dialogue committee, one chaired by Speaker Nabih Berri, and the other by President Michel Sleiman, following his election. But for round three of dialogue, in whatever form it takes, a new mentality is perhaps the most important item of business. Without such a new approach by the main players, there is a danger that Lebanon will see more of the same, at a time when there is no time to be wasted with exercises in pointless rounds of discussions.

A new page must be opened, because the old style of dialogue – characterized by repeating inflexible positions and failing to implement what is agreed on – will only increase public frustration, at a time when many have reached their boiling point. The election law is one of the main items up for discussion, and politicians must arrive at a system that is durable, and not merely designed for the next round of polls. If the law being sought is one whose only criterion is that it guarantees victory for the side supporting it, then it won’t work. But if there are good intentions, and a sincere bid to allow the democratic process take its course, based on a sound election law, then the problems will largely vanish."

As Syria Bleeds, Lebanon Reels (Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker)

"Wouldn’t it be ironic if the popular awakening sweeping the Middle East had the unintended effect of undermining the one established Arab democracy?

On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned. His departure followed a stand-off over extending the term of a senior official responsible for internal security and a new national election law, but it had every sign of being sparked by the civil war unfolding across the border in Syria, which has become increasingly sectarian. At the heart of last week’s events in Lebanon lies Hezbollah, the armed group whose members have been covertly fighting to keep the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, in power. (On assignment recently in Lebanon, I reported on Hezbollah’s unacknowledged activities inside Syria itself, where I outlined the group’s efforts to prop up Assad’s murderous regime.) It now appears increasingly likely that the Syrian civil war will ignite some kind of sectarian strife inside Lebanon as well.

Lebanon is a small country with only four million people, but it’s an extraordinarily diverse place that nearly every government in the Middle East has struggled to dominate. Since 1990, when its own civil war ended, Lebanon has maintained a fitful but functioning democracy, one that relies on a delicate balance of power among its main sectarian groups: the Christians, the Sunnis, the Shia, and the Druze."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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