Fearing backlash, Arab states quiet on Syria crisis

CAIRO, Christophe De Roquefeuil- Arab states are keeping mum and not taking positions on the Syrian crisis, fearing the unrest there could spill over their borders as they battle their own internal issues, analysts say.
With the Middle East in turmoil, further destabilisation of Syria could have serious consequences for its immediate Arab neighbours such as Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and beyond, they say.

Fearing backlash, Arab states quiet on Syria crisis
Arab capitals have been quiet despite the international community expressing outrage over the Syrian authorities' deadly repression of protests against President Bashar al-Assad, which according to rights activists has killed more than 600 people since March 15.
The experience in Syria and Libya "demonstrates that rapid change, which was relatively easy in Tunisia and Egypt, is not necessarily replicated elsewhere," said Mustafa al-Ani of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai.
"Leaders of many countries are reluctant to engage when the situation is still so uncertain. Moreover, a civil war in Syria could bring civil war to Lebanon, increase terrorism in Iraq and undermine Jordanian security."
Syria remains influential in Lebanon through Islamist militant movement Hezbollah in particular, while the Lebanese political classes, whether they support Syria or not, are also worried about a backlash.
"All Lebanese parties are distancing themselves from events in Syria," said Hilal Khashan of the American University of Beirut.
Even the pro-Western Lebanese camp "thinks if it supports the opposition in Syria, it will only worsen the regime's repression," he added.
Antoine Basbous, director of the Observatory of Arab Countries in Paris, said the fear of Syrian retaliation is also keeping these nations quiet.
"The Syrian regime is a pyromaniac that has never hesitated to cause problems for Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq. Some countries are aware of Syria's nuisance value and don't want to provoke it," he said.
Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world, is absorbed in its own delicate political transition after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and "has no desire to engage in outside quarrels" such as the Syrian crisis, he said.
Indeed, the new Egypt has made clear "it is rather tempted to get closer to Damascus, with whom Mubarak had tense relations," said Sayyed Mustafa Kamel from the University of Cairo.
The Arab League is also in turmoil due to the internal crises in many of its member states and hence has little opportunity to speak assertively on Syria.
The Arab League this week announced the postponement until March 2012 of its annual summit, which was due to be held this month in Baghdad.
Turkey, a key neighbour to the Arab world, is also nervous about the situation in a country that, like itself, has a large Kurdish community, while close ally Iran has kept a low profile concerning the repression in Syria, with whom it says it has "32 years of strong relations."
But Israel, which captured two-thirds of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 six-day war, fears the unpredictable consequences of instability in its northern neighbour.
"Imagine the consequences for the Arab world if Israel were to intervene in Syria," said Kamel.

Saturday, May 7th 2011
Christophe De Roquefeuil

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