Brahimi brings hope to embattled Syria

The US, Britain and France—determined to dominate West Asia—are backing Syrian rebels.

The appointment of former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi as UN and Arab League envoy to Syria has been welcomed by the Syrian government, the domestic Syrian opposition and the UN Security Council. After several days of consideration, Brahimi agreed to take up the job. Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan resigned at the end of last month, despairing over escalating violence between the regime and rebels.

In March, Annan brokered a ceasefire and drafted a six-point plan for peace talks. The ceasefire took hold on April 12 and the Syrian army pulled back from some urban areas in accordance with the plan, but the rebels, who had been defeated on the ground, regrouped and rearmed in preparation for a fresh offensive, transforming unrest into full-scale civil strife.

While Brahimi believes the task before him to be difficult-to-impossible, he explained his decision by saying, “These missions have to be undertaken.” Indeed they do and he is not a man to shirk challenges. He began his mission in New York where he tried to convince the deeply divided Security Council to adopt a common policy. The US, Britain and France—determined to dominate West Asia -- are backing Syrian rebels fighting to topple a regime that resists western domination.

Peaceful transition

Committed to foil the west’s scheme, Russia and China — which have major interests in the region—are supporting the government against the rebels and calling for a peaceful transition to democratic rule. Brahimi has to persuade US-allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to stop supplying the rebels with arms and cash and press these regional players to back a negotiated end to the conflict.

In spite of opposition from the west and its Arab partners, Brahimi also has to engage Iran, which is closely allied with Assad and has been providing Syria with fuel, funds and logistical support.

Weakening Shia Iran’s influence in West Asia is a main reason the US and Sunni Arab Gulf governments have been supporting the Syrian rebels. This effort must be abandoned if he is to succeed in ending warfare in Syria.     
Born in Algeria in 1934, Brahimi matured during his country’s independence war against France.  At 22, he was appointed the Algerian National Liberation Front’s envoy to southeast Asia.  After Algeria won its freedom in 1962, he became ambassador to Egypt, the leading Arab power and a major force in the Non-Aligned along with India and Yugoslavia. He later served as ambassador to Britain.

Brahimi has considerable experience with civil conflicts. He made his name as a peace-maker in 1989 when, as a special envoy of the Arab League, he mediated the Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. Between 1991-93, he was Algeria’s foreign minister but resigned in protest over the government’s drive to crush the Muslim fundamentalist rebellion launched after the cancellation of a parliamentary election which the fundamentalists were slated to win.

In 1994, he led the UN mission to observe the South African election that brought Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, to power. He was dispatched to end Yemen’s civil war in 1994 and was appointed as the secretary general’s special representative to Haiti two years later.

He was then sent to Africa as a trouble-shooter and served in Afghanistan between 1997 and 1999 and from 2001-2004. Arriving in Baghdad in April 2004 to prepare for parliamentary elections and for the appointment of interim president and prime minister, his efforts were frustrated by US viceroy L Paul Bremer III.

Brahimi resigned in disappointment, criticising the US for failing to understand how to behave as the world’s sole superpower.  “There are lots of other people on this planet,” he stated, “ the US should make an effort to learn how to live with them.”

The conflict is essentially between city folk who have prospered during the 40 year rule of the Assad regime and people in the countryside who remain poor and marginalised. On one hand, Brahimi will have to deal with an authoritarian regime that believes, rightly, it is being targeted by external powers. On the other hand, he will have to appeal to scores of rebel groups fighting without a central command and a fractured political opposition which has no real popular constituency.

Brahimi’s triumph was the 1989 Taif Accord where he also had to tackle and tame external players before dealing with Lebanon’s self-seeking politicians. In Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, his efforts were not met with much success.  Before taking up his latest post, he admitted, “I might well fail, but we sometimes are lucky and we can get a breakthrough.”

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