This analysis by the Turkish capital is based not only on the unchanged position of pro-regime heavyweights Russia and China in the UN but also on Brahimi’s individual stance on the Syrian crisis.
Diplomatic sources claim that the UN Security Council’s failure to give its new envoy enough leverage with which to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end his bloody crackdown on opposition deprives him of the likelihood of success in his role.
“Because of Russia and China, the international community was not able to authorize [former peace envoy] Kofi Annan to consult with the Syrian authorities under the framework of Chapter 7 [of the UN Charter],” said a Turkish diplomat who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity.
This chapter allows the council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military interventions.
Annan, who officially stepped down on Aug. 31 from his role as the joint UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, has said that his Syria peace plan was hampered by persistent divisions within the council. Brahimi will have a new title, joint special representative for Syria. Diplomats say the change is to distance Brahimi from Annan.
Brahimi, 78, has served as a successful UN diplomat for years, just like his predecessor. However, Brahimi’s lack of insistence on the exit of Assad from power -- in contrast to Annan, who said it was clear the Syrian leader “must leave office” -- has led to an early fall out between him and Syria’s opposition forces. He feels it would be too early to make such a conclusion, not having yet spoken to every actor on the ground, including the regime.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group for the Syrian opposition, has demanded an apology from the new envoy for these words, to which he has not yet responded. In a statement released in mid August, the SNC said Brahimi had shown “disregard for the blood of the Syrian people and their right of self-determination.”
“Whoever gives this criminal regime an opportunity to kill tens of thousands more Syrians and destroy what is left of Syria does not want to recognize the extent of the tragedy,” the SNC said in its statement.
More than 18,000 people have been killed and some 170,000 have fled Syria since the start of the revolt against the Assad family’s rule in March of last year, according to the UN. Khaled Hodja, the SNC’s representative in Turkey, has said that “Brahimi’s remarks accepting the regime as an interlocutor have annoyed all factions of the opposition.”
“We [the opposition] understand the purpose of this mission [by the new UN peace envoy] as only to fill the void after the resignation of Annan from his position. He [Brahimi] will not have any effect on the ground. Annan has already admitted that he could not achieve anything [in this regard],” Hodja claimed in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman.
Brahimi has served as a UN special envoy to Iraq after the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein; to Afghanistan, both before and after the end of Taliban rule; and to South Africa as it emerged from the apartheid era. He is said to have made good progress towards establishing peace in Afghanistan at the first Bonn Conference in 2001 by gathering together all conflicting groups in the country except the Taliban. While his intention was to include the Taliban at the conference, the US is said to have prevented from doing so.
Brahimi is also a former Algerian foreign minister, having served in this role from 1991-1993. He was the first foreign minister of Algeria after a democratic electoral process was violently stopped by the military in 1991 after it became clear the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would win a majority in parliament. This is considered by Syrian opposition circles to be a point against him.
Favzi Zakri, a member of the SNC, told Sunday’s Zaman he believes Brahimi to be a coup supporter for having taken a role in a government instituted by the military. Civil war broke out in Algeria after the military intervention in 1991 and continued until 1995.
Meanwhile, a senior Turkish diplomat who wished to remain unnamed criticized Brahimi for having “stayed silent” on the Arab Spring until assuming his role as peace envoy. “He said he did not know enough about what is happening [in Syria] before he assumed this role,” the diplomat recalled.
However, Nebahat Tanrıverdi, a Middle East specialist with the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), has claimed it could be advantageous for an Algerian diplomat to play the role of mediator in the Syrian crisis because Algeria also experienced a civil war.
“This [mediating in Syria] is a compelling task. The Algerian experience will surely help him, but Algeria has not been able to [completely] overcome its own crisis in the end,” Tanrıverdi told Sunday’s Zaman.
Tanrıverdi maintains that Brahimi having served as a state minister during a time of conflict in Algeria will make it easier for him to communicate with the Syrian regime to stop the violence. However, she acknowledges that the same will not be true when Brahimi addresses the Syrian opposition.
“His career history may both be an advantage and a disadvantage. He is in a particularly poor position to work with the opposition,” she noted.