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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

19.12.2012

Ambassador’s Notebook: The Continuing Arab Spring – Managing Sectarian Tensions

The mainstream opinion on the Arab Spring in Britain seems to be quite reasonable. First, we should not make the mistake of viewing the Arab Spring through a sectarian lens, second – we should not view sectarian politics as the defining issue affecting the region’s security, third – all countries in the region have a common interest in defusing sectarian tensions, and, finally, fourth – that sectarian tensions can only be defused and overcome by peaceful political means. What is missing, however, is the reality of outside interference.

Take Syria, for example. For decades it has been one of the strongholds of religious tolerance, with the Sunni population accounting for approximately 74% of the population, 13% Shia, 10% Christian (in absolute numbers that means about 2.5 million Christians). Further, Syria used to be a secular state. Now, all of a sudden, “sectarian tensions” appear. To me, these emanate from the broader historical context of the region.

One shouldn’t dismiss off hand the fact that the first wave of mass awakening in the region, in the 1950s, was subverted by outside forces. This outside presence didn’t help those nations evolve organically. In fact, as a factor, it distorted their development. And now, that outside strategic oversight of the region is all but destroyed, attempts are made to apply templates from European history to the situation, including the notion of revolutionary violence as an instrument of societal transformation. This encourages violence instead of discouraging it. It left the external players helpless in the face of the efforts by certain regional powers to create a firewall of sectarian tensions in Syria to stop the tide of Arab Spring before it reaches their borders.

We are strongly against outside interference in developments in Syria. We are doing everything within our power to stop the bloodshed, to bring the parties to the negotiating table, which is where the Syrians must agree their future. Only moderate politics and policies can help manage the situation in a positive way – all the more so since they represent the positive aspects of Europe’s historical heritage.

This is what the leading countries agreed on at the meeting in Geneva on June 30, 2012. We are working closely with the Syrian government and all opposition groups to implement these agreements. We believe that all other external actors that have influence over Syrian affairs also should ensure that all the Syrian parties agree on the approach to be taken to the implementation of decisions made at the Geneva meeting. That was precisely the goal of the preliminary contacts between Russian and American representatives with UN Special Envoy Brahimi.

However, Brahimi’s mission will only be successful if he sticks to what was agreed in Geneva. Setting out preconditions makes dialogue meaningless for the Syrian government. That is what the recognition of the “National Coalition” as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people effectively does. This makes the opposition feel that they have more to gain through their current strategy than through dialog. As for Assad, where is his incentive to negotiate? This policy of outside players only leads to more violence.




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