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Dr Musa A Keilani: World still a silent witness
August 17, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Is there room for negotiated settlements to the crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen? Hardly likely. The autocratic regimes of Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, Bashar Al Assad of Syria and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen have already taken their respective conflicts far beyond the point of no return.

All three of them have proved that they would stop at nothing to ensure their survival even if it meant slaughtering the very people that they were supposed to protect.

In Libya, the civil war is getting protracted, with Qadhafi determined never to step down from power and to take as many people with him when he meets his end. It is only a matter of time before that happens since Western leaders have staked themselves in the quest to get rid of Qadhafi and they simply cannot afford to make any compromise that would see Qadhafi continuing in power.

It would also be a mockery of international justice to allow the Libyan strongman to maintain his repressive reign after having clearly established that more than 40 years of power has gone into his head to the point that spilling his own people's blood means nothing to him as long as he ensures his survival.

For someone like Qadhafi, it is unimaginable that anyone would dare question his rule of the country let alone put up an armed challenge.

In the case of Yemen, it is a foregone conclusion that Saleh, who is said to be recovering in Saudi Arabia after he was wounded in an attack on his presidential compound in Sanaa, is a goner.

Short of a dramatic (but unlikely) turn of events, Saleh will never set foot in his homeland. The strongest and most influential tribal leader has taken it upon himself to ensure that there would be no return to the status quo ante before the anti-Saleh revolt erupted.

Saleh will never be able to resume his manipulation of tribal affiliations and rivalries to suit his interests.

The West, particularly the US, is treading a fine line in Yemen because of the perceived strength of the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula there. Ideally, the US would have liked to see Saleh making some concessions to the democracy activists and continue in power and as an ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, where, it seems, the Yemeni strongman was taking Washington for a ride. He manipulated things to project himself as the last bulwark against Al Qaeda and to instill Western fears that his demise would mean Al Qaeda taking over Yemen and turning it into another pre-2001 Afghanistan.

The West has grown wiser to Saleh's game. The US is engaged in an exercise to ensure that whoever replaces Saleh will not only be American friendly but will also listen to and obey Washington when it comes to fighting Al Qaeda.

No doubt, Washington will be successful to a fair degree to bring that about in Yemen. It is only a matter of time before the cronies hanging on to Saleh realise that the game is up and they have to take some serious decisions. They might want to strike deals with the US to ensure their survival, but the tribal and opposition forces at work would oppose any such compromise.

So it is definitely curtains for Saleh and his regime as is the case for Qadhafi. In the meantime, Washington would set the scenario where Saleh's successor would address US concerns about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is a totally different kettle of fish in Syria, given the country's location and its role as one of the key players in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Washington stayed away from calling for regime change in Syria for weeks and advocated a negotiated solution to the conflict that pits the Assad regime against pro-democracy activists.

Assad has made a series of political moves but his foes know that these are cosmetic and only aim at buying time. They know that it would be fatal for them to be lured into making any deal with the regime, and they are determined not to back down.

Unlike Qadhafi and Saleh, Assad's security forces are not fighting armed rebels but peaceful protesters who no longer feel they should remain the tame subjects of a regime that has always repressed them. The regime's forces are on a war footing and are attacking demonstrators with no questions asked and killing and maiming people as if with impunity. This will continue until such time that the Syrian regime is convinced that it has taken the steam out of the pro-democracy movement.

The West has limited options to deal with the Syrian regime.

Washington would prefer to seen the Assad regime continue in power. The reasons are several. Bashar Al Assad has followed in the footsteps of his late father Hafez and ensured that his country's Golan confrontation line with Israel remained calm. The recent flare-ups in the Golan where Palestinians and Syria tried to cross the cease-fire line were an exception, but they should be seen not only as a tactic to divert attention from the civil rebellion in the country but also as a warning to Israel that things would not be the same if the Assad regime were to fall.

Of course, Israel knows this well and it would also prefer to see a continuation of the Assad regime, and that is one of the key reasons why the US had been cautious in its approach to the Syrian crisis. Other considerations have to do with the possible impacts of a regime change in Syria on the regional scene.

Jordan has its own concerns; so do Syria's other neighbours - Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. The Palestinians are closely watching the developments in Syria because whatever happens at the leadership level in Damascus will have a direct bearing on their options while dealing with Israel in their quest for independent statehood.

In the meantime, the reality on the ground remains that no one seems to be able to influence the course of events away from violence.

The regimes in Tripoli, Sanaa and Damascus are aware that they are fighting for their life and simply could not afford failure since it would mean their end. The world at large will have to remain a mute witness to whatever will unfold.
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The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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