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Lakhdar Brahimi's near impossible mission

Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi is a veteran Arab and international diplomat and one of the symbols of the traditional Algerian political structure. As the UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria he is on a near impossible mission.

19 September 2012

Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi is a veteran Arab and international diplomat and one of the symbols of the traditional Algerian political structure. He has led a number of negotiation initiatives on sensitive and complex issues in several countries, notably the Taif Agreement, which put a "stop" to the Lebanese "civil" conflict.

Upon his appointment as the UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, more than a year and a half after the outbreak of its revolution, he began to sense the difficulty of resolving the crisis and began discussing it prior to reading its complex dossiers. He was faced with a media campaign in Europe and by a few Arab newspapers cautioning him against falling prey to the protracted time-games at which his new interlocutors are so skilled. 

Before travelling to Damascus to meet with its “officials”, Brahimi consulted with a number of Syrians, Arabs and westerners to form a more comprehensive picture of a situation about which he knew little. Such a course of action is a point in his favour and distinguishes him from his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who was satisfied with dispatching his delegates or staff members to meet with officials of low profile in the media, reserving high level ranking meetings with leaders to himself.

During his numerous dialogues, the new international envoy did not hear any talk that could instil optimism; especially in view of reports about the stages reached in human rights issues, which include approximately two million internally displaced persons and over 250 thousand refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. Additionally, the conflict itself  is increasingly pointing to an actual war being waged against the people. Another important issue is the dismantling of the country's social fabric, a tactic perfected by the Syrian leadership in neighbouring Lebanon for decades, which is now being translated wholesale with relative success into Syria, the latter now being threatened with the loss of its characteristic innate ethnic and religious harmony. Finally, he must look into the total economic collapse which will require an a-to-z reconstruction plan in a country which for years had, to a large extent, managed to develop its economic assets in spite of the various forms of organized theft and deliberate destruction of its infrastructure.

Several western researchers have started assisting Brahimi in designing the general outlines for proposals, which, while not being within his specialization area, will have their effect on his recommendations. Damascus welcomes him as it did his predecessor, with celebration and hospitality, and with declarations about the desire to implement reforms and hold dialogues with the “national” opposition, in addition to effectuating a cease-fire, provided the opposition yields its weapons. His interlocutors will not adhere to the release of thousands or to the delivery of humanitarian assistance to crisis areas, unless it is through “national” organizations and "civil society". In the end, Brahimi will review the reports of meetings held by his predecessor, Kofi Annan, and find that they are consistent with what he is being told today.

On the other hand, he will face disappointment should he attempt to propose a Syrian version of the ill-fated Taif Agreement, which produced a means of perpetuating Lebanese social divisions in the midst of an extended period of ceasefire, versus the establishment of a genuine national peace. All assumptions are that Brahimi has, early on, registered his own entry into the phase of regret for having accepted this mission, which he himself called: near impossible.

Translated by Amy Arif from Arabic

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