After months of violence and systematic repression carried out by al-Assad’s forces in Syria against the unarmed Syrians, it was announced in Cairo that the “Friends of the Syrian People” project would finally see light in Tunisia, in the presence of Arab and Western countries, and this matter implies severing all ties with the al-Assad regime.
As I write this article the Arab ministerial meeting in Cairo is yet to issue a closing statement, but whatever its content, the most important point was what was issued by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saul al-Faisal. He delivered a speech summarizing the reality of the situation, particularly when he said that initiatives with the Bashar al-Assad regime are useless, and demanded to open communication channels with the Syrian opposition, providing them with all types of support. This will undoubtedly be a turning point in dealing with the Syrian crisis, regardless of any other Arab decisions issued by the Arab League.
Today, as long as there is a conference that will be held in Tunisia under the name “Friends of the Syrian People”, this means that the Arabs have practically decided to un-recognize the al-Assad regime, and have decided to stand genuinely with the blood of the innocent Syrians. There is no doubt that a mere announcement is not the end of the matter, rather it is the beginning of hard work in order to save the innocent Syrians. Accepting the Tunisian request to host the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference came as a compromise between the desire of Turkey and France to host the same event, just as the date of the meeting - the 24th of this month – comes immediately after the London Conference on Somalia that will be held on the 23rd, thus enabling all parties concerned to attend [both events].
The implications of Prince Saud al-Faisal’s speech yesterday, and Tunisia’s invitation for the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference, mean that the Arabs now have ways of taking action in order to protect the unarmed Syrians. Whilst the Russians tried to protect the tyrant of Damascus, what has happened recently means that the Arabs have assumed the higher ground, and decided to take responsibility. Today the Russians, and even the Chinese, can challenge the Arab and Islamic world and the international community if they want, but it will be a challenge in an open theatre, and not in the narrow corridors of the Security Council. The crimes taking place in Syria cannot be tolerated or prolonged, whatever the motivation or justification. The al-Assad regime has lost its credibility and has no charters or covenants in place; the regime is only fluent in the language of distorting the facts. It distorts this with that and broadcasts deliberately misleading news, all in the attempt of trying to be clever. The simplest example of this came from a source within the corridors of the Arab League. [During the ministerial meeting], Iraq openly said yesterday that everything you hear from the al-Assad regime about Iraq providing it with support, financing or concessions is simply not true; they are merely leaks from the al-Assad regime’s media to distort the Arab scene!
Hence, the Saudi position, together with the call for a conference of the “Friends of the Syrian People” in Tunisia, both mean that the wheels have been put in motion to put an end to the crimes being committed against the unarmed Syrians. This will not be easy of course, but it means that the hard work has begun.
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat. The article was published in the London-based newspaper on Feb. 13, 2012