It took exactly one day for the Syrian protesters to figure out what the Arab League sent
them to "observe" the state of civil strife in that poor unfortunate country.
At the League, the dispatch of monitors to Syria was seen as a determined and
courageous initiative. And it's true the League has been short on initiatives since its
founding. Mostly it has issued communiques as full of smoke, hyperbole and hypocrisy
as is each delegate and the countries they lead.
For three decades, the Arab League has used the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as its all-
purpose fig-leaf. It has substituted rhetoric for serious recommendations, perhaps with the
exception of a "peace plan" put forth by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002 and
again in 2007. Skeptical observers believe that the League would rather have a live issue
than a resolved dispute.
(This is not to deny that successive Israeli governments have not behaved in similar
ways, but that's a subject for another day.)
So back to Day One in Syria. That's when the protestors learned that the head of the Arab
League mission has been the intelligence chief in Darfur, working for Sudan's president,
Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with 10 charges of war crimes. It would be a huge
stretch to believe that the League's man, General Mustafa Dabi, had no inkling that
Darfurians were experiencing any inconveniences.
The first meeting of the General and the protesters happened in the city of Homs, which
has been reported in the West as the scene of a massive bloodbath, with security services
firing randomly into a crowd of citizens.
On the very day that General al-Dabi visited Homs, rebel forces reported that 19 people
were there were killed by Assad's security men.
As Syrian tanks pulled out of Homs, "activists charged that the government's action was
a ruse to mislead observers from the Arab League." But General Mustafa Dabi said, "The
situation seemed reassuring so far." He added, "Some places looked a bit of a mess but
there was nothing frightening." He said he plans to return to Homs as well as to other
cities that have been under Syrian fire.
Let us pray that the General does return and does not represent the views of the other 150
monitors now in the country. Maybe it would be fair to ascribe his somewhat confused
rhetoric to first-day-settling-in issues.
But, given the lackluster performance of the Arab League over many years,
what is it reasonable to expect from this group of Dinosaurs?
Look at these members of the League, minus recently expelled Syria and plus Libya,
restored to membership after Gadaffi fell.
The League consists of Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq ,
Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine,
Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Can we point to one democracy, however defined, among these 20 countries? Can we
point to those in which a Sunni Muslim King or President rules over a majority Shia
population? Can we name one that allows its citizens complete freedom of religion? Can
we name one not based on crony-capitalism? How many can we find who won't arrest
you with a warrant, hold you without charges or a lawyer, torture or perhaps kill you in
detention, and -- if you're lucky -- get a sham show-trial that might last, say, 10 minutes.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have always occupied positions of great influence within the
League. So it offers no comfort whatever to learn that the Saudis are planning to
introduce really draconian legislation which would criminalize any unlicensed public
assembly, while Egypt's "interim" military rulers are trying to figure out how they can
appear to be giving up their power to civilians while in fact making it harder for anyone
except a general do actually get anything done.
After a day's experience with the League monitors, the Syrian protesters are calling for
their dismissal and referral of the whole matter to the United Nations.
Nice idea, but lest we forget, Russia and China appear steadfast in trying to preserve their
countries' lucrative commercial ties. Don't expect any
boat-rocking from these two.