Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Doha success: Among other things, a defeat for Saudi prestige

The announcement in Doha, Qatar of the Lebanese agreement came too late for the Wednesday Arab papers, but for the moment it seems worth noting that the Syrian semi-official paper Al-Watan anticipated the success of these talks in an editorial on Sunday May 18, taking it as the sign of the end of the era of real or imagined Saudi leadership in the region. Already the Lebanese authorities had ordered the rollback of the provocative decisions on Hizbullah's communications network and airport-security, and all the parties had agreed to undertake settlement-talks in Qatar. Given that Saudi Arabia had been the sponsor of the Taif Accord that set up the current political framework in Lebanon, the editorialist said, these events (backdown of the March 14 parties, and recourse to Saudi-rival Qatar for talks) already signaled "the end of the Saudi era, and the beginning of a new era..." starting with Qatar representing the start of a "new Taif agreement".

The editorialist talked about the history of Saudi political failures in the region: failure of the "Mecca agreement" that was supposed to bridge the differences between Fatah and Hamas, and likewise the failure of Saudi efforts to mediate a Lebanese agreement, attributing all of these failures to Saudi one-sidedness, summed up in their latest ridiculous proposal:
Following establishment of a new balance of power by the Lebanese opposition on the ground with the events of May 7...the Saudi kingdom issued an alarm and called for the dispatch of Arab troops to Lebanon to "rescue" the loyalist forces. This in spite of the fact that during the July Israeli war on Lebanon, the Saudi authorities did not budge, nor did they propose the sending of a single Arab soldier for the defense of that country..."
The editorialist says Syria distinguished itself not only by not intervening in the recent events, but also by supporting the Qatar negotiations, implying that their success would constitute a historic defeat for the Saudi political pretensions in the region.

Over and above the fact that the Qatar talks succeeded, I think it is interesting that the Syrians knew that they would be successful, given the whole trend of recent events, and I think this can be seen as part of the general feeling of a new direction in regional events, reflected in the recent indications in Egypt and especially in Jordan of a need to get re-oriented away from the recent lock-step alliance with America and its Saudi allies. (Taking into account, however, the caution about habitual Arab-regime behaviour that Abdulbari Atwan continually warns us about).