Why is the Arab League taking a harder stance towards Syria?
November 25, 2011 3:21 AM   Subscribe

Why is the Arab League sort of taking a harder stance towards Syria?

I just read that the Arab League threatened sanctions against Syria if Syria does not let the Arab League send in observers. Why would the Arab League take this sort of non-supportive stance? I don't know that much about the region, but it seems unusual. Do they basically not support the current regime? What's in it for the Arab League?
posted by gt2 to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Good PR? I don't think they really care much about the Assad Regime one way or the other, the guy is in Iran's circle of influence, as opposed to Saudi Arabia's.
posted by delmoi at 4:01 AM on November 25, 2011

Best answer: Here's one analysis. (Note: Institute for National Security Studies, Israel)

(Short version: because Syria's allied with Iran.)
posted by nangar at 4:11 AM on November 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Arab League has also taken a similar, hard stance against Yemen which is not allied with Iran and which is within the circle of influence of Saudi Arabia.

It is most likely for the purpose of discouraging foreign intervention in both countries which is one of the primary political goals of the Arab League. So yeah, a sort of PR.
posted by three blind mice at 6:51 AM on November 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

What would the Arab League get for rubber stamping Syria's behavior?

There's a certain convenience to having a guy on the block who you can count on to have a yard that needs mowing and a house that needs painting more than yours. But having Syria as your neighbor is international equivalent of having the guy with the burnt out hulk of an old 4x4 on cinder blocks in his lawn as your neighbor. Even if you assume that everyone involved in the Arab League is there for the most skeevy and self-serving of reasons, it's not hard to see why they're going to be opposed to a government who is actively destabilizing the region. What's going on in Syria makes it harder for them to conduct their day to day affairs.

Now I'm curious how the Arab league deals with Somalia or even who represents Somalia to the League.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:55 AM on November 25, 2011

One member of the League is democratic, Tunisia. Another is on the road to democracy, Egypt. The stance taken by those two governments is therefore responsive to the opinions of their people, whose sympathies would lie with their Syrian counterparts, struggling against violent repression by a threatened regime (a situation they experienced, in the flesh, a few months ago).

(There would be exceptions: religious minorities in Egypt might be more sympathetic to the pro-Syrian-regime side, out of identification with the fears of the religious minorities in Syria concerning their fate in the event of the toppling of the existing order).

In the case of other member states of the Arab League, there might be calculations being made about how the struggle will end and the aim being to to end up on good terms with the side that wins.
posted by Paquda at 11:37 AM on November 25, 2011

Best answer: There is an increasing tilt in the League's membership toward democratic regimes -- which include Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Palestine, Sudan, and others with nominal or quasi-parliamentary democratic institutions, including Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, and a handful of others. But then some of the strongest criticism of Assad has actually come from King Abdullah. While democratization is clearly a trend within the League, it's something that its leadership wants to get out in front of rather than behind. Abdullah, for instance, fancies himself a reformer on top of a constitutional monarchy, although this is far from a realistic assessment of that country.

In realpolitik terms, though, the League senses that Assad is going to lose the showdown, and the only question is how long he's able to hold out and how bloody the civil war or coup will be. By isolating him internationally, they bring the closure closer.

There is a religious aspect, of course. Assad is an Alawite Muslim, a Shi'ite minority ruling a largely Sunni population. This doesn't sit well with other Sunnis. It also doesn't help that Syria actively supports the Shi'ite minority in Lebanon, particularly the militant group Hezbollah, which is pretty much in an active state of war against Israel. To the League, which has long supported a Palestinian state, this is dangerously destabilizing -- no matter how much their member states' populations hate Israel. I don't think any of the state actors really relishes another shooting war, even if like Syria they are happy to let non-state actors continue to use violent means.

Ultimately, unlike during the Cold War -- when the Arab League was somewhat non-aligned, even while including members within its ranks on both the US and USSR sides -- they now crave continued good relations with the West. A bloody civil war will be damaging to that comity, so the faster Assad is out the better.

The West itself is also reluctant to stage another intervention, for similar reasons, so they have probably put considerable quiet pressure on the League to take a leading position here. As with Libya, they don't want to show their imperialist face very blatantly, even if they do have clear foreign policy goals and stakes in the outcome.

It is probably true that in its early days the league would have taken the side of any Arab state vs. any non-Arab one regardless of regime, but of course back then there were very few, if any, democracies. Today, they view international relations more pragmatically and are also searching for relevance as an institution in the face of fragmenting regional commonality of purpose.

Kid, Somalia does have a nominal government, it just doesn't have much in the way of control over the territory called Somalia.
posted by dhartung at 7:50 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

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