By Arab News
As the Libyan endgame plays out in Tripoli, questions are being asked as to what the consequences will be for the rest of the Arab world.
The Arab Spring has been extremely contagious: Libya’s revolution was itself triggered by the mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt. In the case of Syria, the opposition is bound to draw comfort from events in Tripoli and it will probably encourage yet more protesters onto the streets on Friday. It may yet be a tumultuous Eid for Syria. All the more reason then that the Assad government should try to heal wounds by engaging in meaningful reform as well as dialogue with the opposition. If it is serious in its claims that it wants a peaceful end to the crisis it also has to cooperate with plans by the UN Human Rights Council to send a team to investigate possible crimes against humanity there.
Speaking at an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria, the UN’s Human Rights High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, said that 2,200 Syrians have been killed since the crackdown began in March. Of those, 350 have died since the beginning of Ramadan.
Syria and its dwindling band of friends claim that it has deliberately been defamed by the international media and that the reports of indiscriminate attacks on civilians are lies. In effect, they call Navi Pillay a liar. She is not. It is they who are the liars.
A week ago, when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon phoned President Bashar Assad to express his alarm at the violence perpetrated by Syrian troops, he was told that military and police operations against the protesters had ended. That was not true. They have continued. On Monday, more protesters were shot dead in Homs. Assad lied to the UN secretary-general — and it is significant that Ban Ki-moon has publicly accused him of doing so albeit in somewhat more diplomatic language. But saying, as he did later on Monday that Assad “has not kept his word” amounts to the same thing. It is rare for a UN secretary-general to accuse a country’s president of lying.
Assad claims that there is no danger of his government falling and that any foreign intervention will fail. No one is talking about foreign intervention. It will not happen — and he knows it. He is merely trying to play up the threat in the hope that it will rally support behind him. As to the claim that he is in no danger of falling, he deceives himself. The more his forces kill, the greater the chance it will inflame protest and see his government swept from power. The claim sounds more like an attempt to reassure his supporters.
At the Geneva meeting, Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar and Kuwait, joined their voices to the condemnation of the violence in Syria and the demand that a UN team be dispatched there to investigate. Such statements may not have legal force; at the end of the day it is up to the Syrians to comply. If they refuse, they show contempt for the international community and their opposition to a peaceful settlement. It is such folly. The crisis is not going to end through repression.