Syria rejected a peace plan from the Arab League that called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and form a national unity government with the opposition within two months. The Assad regime called the plan “an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs.”
But of course, the Arab League has been intervening in the internal affairs of the Syrian government ever since they sent a mission to monitor the protests and the violence in the cities. That mission continued today without the participation of Saudi Arabia, perhaps a bigger deal than the Arab League peace plan. The Saudis quit the mission because of broken promises by the Assad regime.
The decision was taken minutes after the Arab League decided to persist with the observers and extend its mission for another month, ignoring demands for it to hand responsibility for monitoring the crisis in Syria to the UN security council.
The Saudi intervention appeared to be intended to assert its authority in the escalating crisis and seize responsibility from Qatar, which Riyadh and the Gulf Co-operation Council states believe has allowed Damascus to dictate terms.
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, accused the Syrian regime of acting in bad faith and not implementing any of its obligations, spelled out in the Arab League resolution that cleared the path for the mission almost three months ago.
“My country will withdraw its monitors because the Syrian government did not execute any of the elements of the Arab resolution plan,” he said.
“We are calling on the international community to bear its responsibility, and that includes our brothers in Islamic states and our friends in Russia, China, Europe and the United States.”
Now that would be a prelude to a Western intervention, albeit perhaps not a military one (which the Arab League expressly rejected in their plan). We’ve seen a constant pattern during the Arab uprising of Western states following the lead of the Saudis consistently. That meant military intervention in Libya, a brokered deal in Yemen and silence in Bahrain. The Saudis have dictated the response. What they actually want in Syria is not yet clear, but they see no hope for the status quo of the monitoring mission and the Arab League process. They’d rather see a broad coalition take the lead. What’s more, the Saudis have basically funded the monitoring mission, which may not be able to go on without their involvement.
To that end, Germany wants the UN Security Council to back the Arab League plan for Assad to step down. I don’t think China or Russia will go for that (especially Russia, which just sold a bunch of fighter jets to Syria). But it sets the Syrian crisis in a different context. The international community was content to let the Arab League take the lead. Now, egged on by Saudi Arabia, the West will assert their own control. And it has to be this way. The Arab League played their card and Syria rejected it. Time for the international community to lead.