Across the Bay

Sunday, August 20, 2006

About that "Sunni Arab Fold"

This is something from AP for all those luminaries who want to bring Syria back to the "Sunni Arab fold" and all that jazz:

Arab League Foreign Ministers convened for an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss how to fund reconstruction in war-ravaged Lebanon and defuse Mideast tensions amid rising discord between moderate Arabs and Syria, a main backer of Hezbollah.
Diplomats said Arabs want to counter a flood of money that is believed to be coming from Iran to Hezbollah to finance reconstruction projects. An estimated 15,000 apartments were destroyed and 140 bridges hit by Israeli bombardment in Lebanon, along with power and desalination plants and other key infrastructure.

"This is a war over the hearts and mind of the Lebanese, which Arabs should not lose to the Iranians this time," said a senior Arab League official.

Just one problem. According to this report, one Foreign Minister, from a particular country was missing. Guess who!

Walid Moallem, Syria's FM, has decided to boycott the meeting in Cairo, because of the current crisis between Syria and Egypt, after Bashar's rabid (yet "not radical," according to certain luminaries) speech the other day. And it is also due to the fact that Moallem has been put in his place in the last two Arab League meetings, and was both times harshly criticized by the Saudi Foreign Minister. His second appearance, in Beirut, was particularly embarrassing, and he had to leave early after being snubbed by the other ministers, who backed Fouad Seniora against him.

Back to the speech. Bashar basically lashed out against Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (I'm not sure what other "Sunni Arab fold" there may exist), personally insulting their leaders as "half-men" and mercenaries. The speech drew contemptuous responses in the papers of the three countries in question (see here for some English excerpts). One Egyptian paper, Akhbar al-Yom, ran a column by its editor in chief, entitled "The Little Lion." In it, the editor wrote: "The Syrian president has started to publicize his merchandise in the market of political hypocrisy and cheap overbidding. He is tickled by dreams of returning to Lebanon, and is carrying, along with Hezbollah the banners of victories which have no basis in reality. Victories that have destroyed Lebanon and rendered his people refugges, killing hundreds and injuring thousands." He added, "Assad has picked from the stock of old slogans which he memorizes several accusations which he hurled at Lebanese political powers, in an attempt to stoke civil war and sectarian strife, and to settle scores and seek revenge from all the political powers that have defied and rejected Syrian hegemony."

But it wasn't only the papers. Egypt's President Mubarak himself bluntly told Assad (without naming him) that this stage is not one of "cheap overbidding," warning him of any attempt to interfere in Lebanese affairs.

Mubarak also took a position surely antagonistic to Syria when he qualified the "right to resist occupation" by adding "on the condition that this comes from the people's own national will, and in accordance with its own interests." This statement hits at two things: 1- that Hezbollah is working for a non-Lebanese agenda, namely Iran's and Syria's, which is not in the national interest of Lebanon. And 2- There's clearly no "national will" in Lebanon to pursue this agenda, in clear reference to the fact that Hezbollah's actions and armed status are firmly outside the Lebanese consensus. It may even be said, again to Assad's dismay, that Mubarak's statement echoes Walid Jumblat's: "Is this (Hezbollah) resistance Lebanese or is it a tool of the Syrian-Iranian axis on Lebanese territory? ... We have the right -- and it is not treason to say it -- that we are Lebanese who look forward to a secure future without war of others on our land."

This not only suggests that the pre-July 12 status quo is no longer tenable, but it also points to what I've said before, that Egypt and Saudi Arabia realize this is a direct threat to their standing in the region. It wasn't for naught that Mubarak accused Syria and Iran of sabotaging his efforts to end the crisis over the Gilad Shalit kidnapping by Khaled Meshaal. As I've put it before, this was an attempt at a regional coup d'etat, aimed specifically against Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Syria is now viewed as fully entrenched in the Iranian camp, as Iran's client (this was evident long ago). The other camp has Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. All this business about returning Assad to the "Sunni Arab fold" is just the stuff of pundits and "formers."

Nothing makes that clearer than the symbolism of Moallem boycotting the Arab League conference.