Still, it seems they can’t do much about this unfolding crisis. Nevertheless, we can see some visible changes in the way the international community is handling the Syrian crisis in particular, and similar uprisings in general. Let us take the Arab League. Since its establishment in 1945, this intergovernmental organization has served as a stronghold of the status quo, and has always had an external focus. Its member states would band together, with their anti-Israeli sentiments, and focus on the anti-imperialist Arab nationalist utopia. For this very reason, they never included internal political reform in their agendas. Its motto was to foster relations and cooperation among members in order to protect the independence and sovereignty of its members. Arab revolts have disrupted this 60-year tradition.
In a first and major move, the Arab League lent support in March of last year to the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) resolution to control Libyan airspace with a view to neutralize Muammar Gaddafi’s air forces, which were shelling the Libyan people. Later, the league suspended Libya’s membership in November of last year. This was also a first since the suspension of Egypt’s membership due to Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1979. Then the league announced a number of sanctions designed to put an end to the ongoing massacre in Syria. Syria’s membership, too, was suspended in November 2011. A delegation of monitors was sent to Damascus. On Jan. 22, a roadmap was adopted to end the conflict. Finally, foreign ministers gathered in Cairo decided to establish a joint peacekeeping force in Syria with the UN. These efforts may not be sufficient and require that more radical measures be taken against Syria, but it is obvious that the Arab League and Arab countries have now started to take initiative and the international community is curious to know their thoughts regarding this specific matter.
These efforts by the Arab League and Arab countries cannot be explained merely by their antagonism towards Iran or Shiites, or by Saudi Arabia’s leadership. New administrations that emerged after revolts or through soft transitions -- as in Morocco -- are considerably different from former administrations that were nothing but autocratic Western satellites. Thus we see Morocco busy working on the UNSC’s draft resolution against Syria that was vetoed by China and Russia last week; an active Qatar, which is the term president of the Arab League; Tunisia, which will host the league’s next meeting on Syria and Egypt, which convinced Palestine’s hostile brothers, Fatah and Hamas, to form a national unity government. They are turning into actors and, with them, the league itself is becoming an international player.
And who stands against their endeavors? Well, a new Cold War-like situation is slowly settling in thanks to a Russia-led opposition, openly visible with respect to the Syrian crisis. Today there is Russia, which tends to describe the incidents as “foreign-induced terror” despite some 5,000 killed by Syrian security forces. China has closely followed Russia’s lead. The fact that these two countries may entertain completely divergent interests and intentions does not change this fact. Russia and China, which vetoed the non-invasive UNSC resolution last week, also vetoed the draft resolution offered by European countries that sought sanctions against Syria last October. Last year, however, the same countries abstained from voting on the UNSC resolutions that allowed for the use of military force against the Ivory Coast and Libya, which eventually stopped the violence there. The Ghost of Vyacheslav Molotov -- the Soviet foreign minister of the Cold War era, who is not only famous for his “cocktail,” but also known as “Mr. Niet” because of his endless vetoes at the UNSC -- is back in New York.
Iran is the third factor. A weird bloc of “no,” consisting of China, Iran, Russia and a number of satellites in the region, is deathly allergic to popular uprisings and regime changes. When Vladimir Putin is elected once again as the Russian president in March, we can expect the bloc to get stronger. Interestingly, all three countries are home to discontent -- like in Arab countries -- as well as harsh official responses to discontent. Arab uprisings are obviously bad models.
The bloc has countless justifications for its stance. Russia has lost its arms customer Libya, and now faces the risk of losing another customer, Syria, which is providing it with all sorts of military facilities in the Mediterranean. Energy-hungry China cannot risk any more confusion in the Middle East. China and Russia are involved in Iran’s nuclear bid. Iran runs the risk of losing both Syria and Lebanon. While all these factors cruelly imply that the bloodshed will continue in Syria, it is the Syrian people who will hopefully have the final say.