Gazzola Monica

The night of Syria: views from Brussels [27/07/2012]

If we look at the map “The night of Syria” published by Mapping the World, we see death rates, military bases, sectarian divisions and bombs on cities. I have always wondered what other eyes could see on such a map, in particular the eyes of politicians and decision-makers. That’s why I have asked them. I had the opportunity to talk extensively with Raimon Obiols, a Member of the European Parliament (EP); Mr Obiols is also member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, of the Commission on Foreign Affairs, of the Delegation to Mashreq Countries and of the Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean. Syrian crisis represents the expression of the inability to act of the international community, imprisoned in a cage of contrasting and particular interests. Is there no hope for politics then?

Mr. Obiols explains me that the EP does not have real competences in external relations of the EU, apart from taking positions, resolutions, declarations and lobbying Council. Yet, those can be strong powers if properly used. Not every issue can be solved by means of the law. Although sometimes international law cannot prevent States from breaching it, it does not mean that there are no other paths that can be pursued. The Parliament has been boycotting the Syrian regime through several packages of sanctions, which demonstrate the efficiency of this measure (thanks to the oil embargo, 30% of national revenue has been cut, and the regime is losing 1 billion per month; some believe that it would shortly run out of money and it will be forced to start borrowing from abroad). Furthermore, the EP can offer political support to the opposition, in order to avoid internal struggle for power. In Paris, some months ago, the exiled Syrian businessman Nofal Dawalibi announced the birth of a transitional government, presenting it at the same time as an alternative to the SNC and to the regime. In this regard, Mr Obiols considers the Syrian National Council to be the most legitimate body to represent Syrian people, being the biggest opposition group the EP is engaging in dialogues with.

As many other experts believe, the EU has indeed an important role to play as a large regional political organisation (not representing interests of a single country), as long as its contribution remains complementary. The issue of the ownership of the peace process has to be taken into consideration not necessarily because any European involvement could be perceived as an attitude inherited from the colonial past, but most importantly because regional actors have a better knowledge of the reality in the field. What the EU alone can do is rather a monitoring activity, which is rarely put in place in such processes.

Interestingly, Mr Obiols highlights an element that is rarely taken into account: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Having recently visited Egypt and Palestine, he reports that the populations do have the feeling of being part of a larger process of change in the whole region. Analyzing the Syrian situation in the geopolitical context, one perceives the shadow of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This element is probably hindering a proper transition and a smoother normalization of regional affairs in the area. This phenomenon causes tensions, which are amplified by the nuclear threat from Jerusalem. Additionally, media and political efforts are currently focusing exclusively on Syria. “We shouldn't stuck on the media coverage”, Mr Obiols suggests. “If the whole region was more stable, it would be easier for international diplomacy and sanctions to be effective”. Quite a tricky issue. When a similar massacre happened in 1982, there was no media coverage and nobody knew.

Also, should we still rely on the mediation effort carried out by Kofi Annan? Mr. Obiols states that he has been doing his job properly, considering that he has been assigned to an extremely difficult task and the high level of expectations on his peace plan. We must be careful in criticizing Mr Annan’s management of the plan, because we cannot be aware of all the steps he has been taking given the confidential nature of these operations. Additionally, Mr Annan’s appointment as a mediator was a good choice, as top UN and EU officials agree. Nabil Saath (former Palestinian Middle East peace process negotiator), Alvaro de Soto (former UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process) and Marc Otte (former EU Special Representative for the Middle East peace process) share the same view on this issue. Commenting for “Mapping the World”, they all agree in affirming that Kofi Annan was indeed a good choice because it was a joint one (Arab League and UN). Also, during his former role as Secretary General Mr Annan had dialogued with the regime, and therefore he is probably the most appropriate person to deal with the Syrian government. Besides, as many commentators state, there are reasons to believe that this plan was not meant to function, but to provide for sufficient grounds to move forward in case of its failure, or to push reluctant countries to stop their support for Assad’s regime.

“Of one thing I'm sure: this is such a volatile situation that all we can expect is a constant change. If all measures taken have revealed to be ineffective so far, it doesn't mean that this impasse will continue for a long time” Mr. Obiols concludes. “Unfortunately, at this stage we must wait”.

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