x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Is UN/Arab envoy Lakhdar Brahimi wavering over Geneva 2?

UN/Arab envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is being cornered over Geneva 2, says Al Hayat. Other views: US-Iran grand deal worries Arab states and tyrants engender false nostalgia in the difficult times

“In order to assess the results of the recent regional tour of Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab envoy to Syria … we should perhaps ask whether there are more chances now for the Geneva 2 conference to be held,” wrote Abdullah Iskandar, managing editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, in a column yesterday.

Mr Brahimi kicked off his tour amid declarations by Geneva 2’s main sponsors – Washington and Moscow – that the conference would be held on November 22 and 23, the writer said.

At the end of his tour, however, Mr Brahimi started talking about the possibility of holding the conference “within weeks”, at best. He also suggested that the event would be cancelled altogether if the opposition refuses to attend.

“This means that Brahimi’s tour did not contribute anything tangible to increasing the chances for this conference to take place, despite all the optimism expressed by the United Nations and Brahimi himself, and despite all the praise he received from Moscow and Washington and from the Syrian regime itself – the same regime that pigeonholed him as a traitor and an enemy,” Iskandar wrote.

Embraced by the state media in Damascus, Mr Brahimi criticised the Syrian opposition’s reluctance to attend the Geneva 2 conference and asked its leaders to “convince me”, according to the editor.

Plus, he added, Mr Brahimi further cornered the opposition by showing great enthusiasm for the participation of Iran in the international conference. (If it ever takes place, Geneva 2 would be the second instalment of an earlier conference held in Geneva to resolve the Syrian conflict.)

“It seemed that the whole point of Brahimi’s tour in the region – which, without any excuse, skipped Riyadh – was to meet [the Syrian president Bashar] Al Assad and to obtain the consent of the Syrian regime to attend Geneva 2,” the editor observed. “Some in the United Nations and the entourage of the its secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, have actually believed that the Syrian approval was owed to Brahimi’s efforts.”

That is not correct, the editor argued. “In fact, the Syrian regime ‘consented’ to attend Geneva 2 the day it decided to entrust its chemical weapons crisis with Moscow … The only part that Brahimi played actually was in promoting the idea that the Syrian regime was being rehabilitated by Russia to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal – with US approval – in order for the regime to become an acceptable interlocutor.”

This situation has put Mr Brahimi in a strange position, according to the author. “Brahimi became a publicist for a US-Russian compromise, not an envoy to resolve the conflict in Syria on the basis of the Geneva 1 declaration.”

A US-Iran ‘grand deal’ worries Arab nations

The Gulf states’ concern over the US-Iran rapprochement is legitimate, as the chances of a “grand deal” between the two parties are greater than ever, Khaled Al Hroub wrote in Al Hayat.

Through a thaw, the US seeks to put Iran’s nuclear programme under international surveillance and prevent it from being used for military purposes. Iran in turn wants to lift the crippling economic embargo and avert US interference in its domestic affairs, and have its role and interests in the region acknowledged.

Certainly Iran’s first two demands are legitimate. But what is concerning others is for its regional role to be strengthen and acknowledged, he wrote.

Iran aims to become the most influential power in the region, an ambition which is rejected by its Arab neighbours, whose experience with Iran in the post-independence era has on the whole been a bitter one.

Whether under the Shah’s regime or Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule, Iran has had some serious interventionist and arrogant tendencies towards neighbours, seeking to act as “the policeman of the region”, “the revolutionary of the region”, and most recently “the mediator of the region”.

Tehran is apparently ready to back down on its nuclear ambitions if it secures a comfortable spot in the regional arena. This means more meddling in the affairs of many Arab countries. Hence the great concern among the latter.

Hard life almost makes people miss tyrants

People don’t mourn tyrants because they love slavery per se, but simply because they feel nostalgic about a less complicated life they had under the tyrants who knew how to throw them just enough scraps to keep them alive, wrote Bilal Fadl in the Cairo-based Al Shorouk.

When those very scraps become inaccessible, don’t talk to people about the merits of democracy versus dictatorships, he wrote.

In post-communist Eastern Europe, a number of poor people would lament the loss of their communist tyrants because they felt that life under capitalism is even worse. Put differently, the worse the economy, the more nostalgic people become about their former tyrants.

After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Croatian author Slavenka Drakulić wrote in her book Cafe Europa: Life After Communism that “We, the people from the communist world, are still children in the political sense. We need a daddy, somebody who will look after us. We don’t know how to be free. The result is a palpable disappointment with the new, post-communist reality”.

In Egypt, many ordinary people who want a better life are growing more nostalgic about the past and willing to support anyone who promises to end the turmoil, even if by more bloodshed.

* Digest compiled by Translation Desk