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Raghida Dergham Headshot

Fear of Annan's Plan Turning Into a Process of Buying Time

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New York -- Regardless of the arrogance shown by the leadership of Russia or Syria, they both belong to a coalition of the weak, and in this they are not alone. Indeed, Western countries coalesce in weakness when it comes to the issues of Iran and Syria -- the weakness of not being able to take measures. The Syrian opposition is weak in its divisions, its capabilities, and its fragmentation into blocs. Turkey, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar nearly formed a coalition of the strong, had not the Americans been determined to weaken them due to differences in goals and priorities.

The UN Security Council is weighed down by its weakness, not just because of the specter of the Russian-Chinese veto that consecrates it, but also because it has tied its role to the joint Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, Kofi Annan, who in turn has been weakened because playing the role of the weak is an essential part of the language of diplomacy. All this weakness spread everywhere might lead one to conclude that nothing can be done, and that time alone will produce the de facto strong, no matter how weak they may be. The Islamic Republic of Iran is positioning itself to lead those likely to grow strong, but Israel lies in wait for it, in case Tehran moves forward with its military nuclear program. Israel may consider itself safe from weakness, but the occupation weighs it down with weakness, and demography weighs it down with concerns. The Arab Gulf states, with all of their oil-based power, lie in the shadow of weakness, as long as they fail to enact the radical reform necessary to couple wealth with the needs of their populations, at the economic level as well as at the level of basic human rights.

As for the United States, it has chosen weakness or playing a weak role under Barack Obama, because it finds in this choice its sustenance and its strength. On the background of all of this, it seems that those traditionally weak are the ones who now hold the tools they had been deprived of in the old customary formulas. Thus, before the leaderships of major or minor powers return to the tables of drafting stale strategies, it may be useful for them and for their countries to remove their blinders and avoid the staleness of conclusions reached too soon.

The Arab revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria are not a spring blooming with flowers. Rather, the desire to hijack the achievements of the youth uprising has eaten away at much of the euphoria of hope and quelled the flame of optimism. And yet... yet what is amazingly new, and deserves to be fully appreciated and paid heed to, is the momentum of non-traditional participation in shaping the steps to the future, and in shaping the future itself.

Tunisia is a shining example of the secular segment of society not yielding to the dictates of its Islamist segment, even after the disappointment of seeing the youth revolution hijacked. The women of Tunisia do not represent a surprise, as they have always been at the core of insistence on and contribution to the political and social process, as well human rights in Tunisia. Yet the women of Tunisia have grown even more beautiful and powerful as they have taken their fate into their own hands and refused to submit and surrender to laws that take them hostage or marginalize them. They are at the vanguard of change, and they will not accept to remain under the label of victims. They are, with Tunisia's youth, attracting to their camp those among men who are enlightened, including those who had not originally paid heed to the consequences of Islamist political parties seizing power, and who have now realized their mistake and are joining the march to freedom, justice and democracy.

Libya is suffering, of course, and over it dwells the specter of the victory of backwardness, division and revenge. Libya is still under intensive care. But those who listen to human rights activist Farida Al-Allaghi, who fought for freedom for over 30 years, fill with hope and trust in the young people and the grandmothers of Libya -- the grandmothers who have been "mobilized" to influence young people and prevent them from crossing the line by standing tall in the face of those who have ridden the wave of revenge; and the young women who had never dreamed that they would be able to lift their heads or emerge from their chronic silence. It is a secular workshop, says Farida, Libya had never dreamed of, and this is why she is not afraid of obstacles and difficulties. Indeed, the building has just begun.

Egypt frightened us and almost swallowed up any welcoming of change, after Islamist political parties hijacked every political forum and rushed to monopolize power. Yet the youth's public squares remained alive after the television cameras left them. The youth of Egypt, its young men and women, focused their energy on refusing to submit, and on dealing the greatest political setback to the Muslim Brotherhood at the hands of liberal, secular and leftist forces, which have insisted on preventing the Islamist movement from dominating the constitutive assembly in charge of drafting the constitution. A judicial ruling has thus been issued to stop the formation of the constitutive assembly, in light of the lawsuits raised by attorneys and professors of constitutional law. The ruling has thwarted plans of hegemony and monopoly in drafting the constitution, and taught the Islamists the lesson that the Revolution in Egypt did not come so that they may monopolize power or impose an Islamist constitution on Egypt.

Yemen seems to be on its way to become "Somalized" and to officially turn into a "failed state." Yet there are still in Yemen those working to prevent this among the new youth and among Yemen's wise politicians who were previously in power, then joined the Yemeni uprising. The details of the change that has come to Yemen are difficult for the outside world to understand, because the structure of the country is complicated and difficult. Yet it is clear that Yemen has not hit rock bottom, but has rather gone through a political process by virtue of which former President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquished the presidency. This in itself is new, as it came to meet the will of a people that did not have the right to will.

Political leaderships in Moscow and Beijing would be serving themselves and their people if they were to pause at the Arab march to change and closely examine its development. Their fear of the will of the people and of the uprising of "the people want" is understandable, in view of the nature of government in Russia and in China. However, what is taking place in the Arab region is no incidental, extraordinary event that will pass, but is rather a process and a patient and determined progression that can only be paid heed to.

Similarly, Washington and the Western capitals that rushed to take lightly the forces of moderation, enlightenment, civil rights and liberalism should come to their senses. Indeed, they hastily reached the conclusion that the new ruling forces would be exclusively Islamist, and that secular forces had become marginalized and marginal, scattered in an elitist minority unconnected to the popular infrastructure. Such a rush to abandon the forces of moderation and secularism reveals a frightening ambivalence among Western countries that claim to support democracy. It reveals the dangerous ignorance of the event and the process taking place in the Arab region. It also reveals the traditionalism of assessing interests in an archaic, stale language that will not last much longer.

The leaderships in Moscow, Beijing, Washington, London, Paris and other European capitals would benefit from taking into consideration and understanding the element of people in the process of change and transformation in the Arab region in its new garb. Similarly, the League of Arab States would benefit from ceasing to waver in its stances towards Syria, for example, as would the international community, which wavers between enticing the Syrian leadership into leaving power at one time, and enticing it into negotiating to share power at another.

The Syrian people have perhaps taken their decision, which is that their president, Bashar al Assad, and the rule of the single Baath party is finished politically, no matter what happens and how much time passes. The mark of ten thousand people killed has come to announce the inevitability of the domestic eruption and the fall of the regime. The international community, and with it sometimes the League of Arab States, wants to take things slowly, with each their own intentions. The overwhelming majority of international players consider that there is no way for life to return to normal in Syria, and yet their decision is to extensively delay an explosion that would drag countries into getting implicated against their will, especially as Iran represents a main element in all equations pertaining to Syria. What we are witnessing now is the interlacing of the diplomacy of concordance and the clash of notions. Joint UN-AL Envoy Kofi Annan is basing himself in the mission he is entrusted with on the logic that there is no way for a diplomatic process to succeed if it relies on demanding that Bashar al Assad step down from the presidency. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes that Bashar al Assad is politically finished, and can only leave or be forced to leave power. They have both analyzed the political factors involved for major powers, and especially the United States, and have found that there is no escaping diplomacy, even if it is from the onset destined to fail.

Kofi Annan considers diplomacy to require patience. He analyzes the political map, which indicates that none of the major powers wants to rush, but rather that most of them would be satisfied with "little is better than nothing," and in fact would be satisfied with very little indeed. Nevertheless, Kofi Annan will not be able to continue merely managing relations between major powers while the Syrian leadership targets people militarily. He has no choice but to admit that granting deadline after deadline will be translated into prolonging the conflict, which in turn would warn of a civil war instead of preventing it from erupting. Prolonging and allowing for delays is what will strengthen the armed extremist elements and give them the upper hand over the people's revolution. Drawing Iran towards the conciliatory diplomatic process might seem logical, but the Islamic Republic of Iran represents an integral part of the Syrian crisis. It plays a part in oppressing Syrians and turning Syria into an Iranian instrument used by Tehran within the framework of a regional struggle with Arab countries, and the strategy of communication with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Thus, any solution that would satisfy Tehran would have as its precondition to weaken the Syrian opposition and cling to the regime in Damascus.

The fear from Annan's six-point plan, which the Security Council has supported, is that it might turn into a flexible process of distraction similar to the negotiation process, known as 5+1 or 3+3, engaged in by the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany with Iran over the latter's nuclear issue. Indeed, after many rounds and many years, there is still a "process" but no results. The same applies to "the Middle East peace process" -- in which the "process" has become the result without results. And now there is "the plan," which is feared to turn into an open-ended process at people's expense, as Damascus has merely taken steps of form or of procedure in order to distract and to buy time.

Most likely this will not happen. It will not happen because people have evolved from passively waiting for the decisions of domestic, regional and international leaderships to actively deciding their own fate, patiently striving for change, and readily paying the price of freedom. Let leaderships then come to their senses and stop behaving arrogantly, or else they would be taking part in the bloodshed.

RaghidaDergham.com