Syria's suspension from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was expected, because it is dominated by the Gulf States. But how should the West position itself? A commentary by DW's Rainer Sollich.
The media coverage of the pan-Islamic Syria summit in Mecca included a strategically placed warning from Washington. The US will make sure that Iran "would not try to decide Syria's future," declared US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday. He added that Syria's future was the business of the Syrian people alone.
Well meaning words, but, unfortunately, wrong. The truth is that the war in Syria has not been an internal conflict for some time – rival foreign powers have got involved in an attempt to protect their interests. The latest troubles and kidnappings in neighboring Lebanon provide a significant example, and there are several indications that Iran has been supporting its old ally Syria with military advisors and possibly weapons.
Influence of foreign powers
It is just as apparent that the rebels can count on the help of the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The Gulf States are blatantly financing weapons supplies and the wages of rebel soldiers. And their Western allies? One would have to be naïve to believe that Western aid is limited to humanitarian or logistical support, as is consistently claimed. That would mean essentially leaving the poorly equipped rebels unprotected against a regime notorious for torturing and murdering its opponents.
Rainer Sollich heads DW's Arabic department
The Mecca summit has once again made the power constellation clear: led by the Saudis, the majority of Islamic states have agreed to the temporary suspension of Syria from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Iran, the most important Shiite state, did not sign up to the deal, but remained loyal to its religious cousins in Damascus.
Considering the broad unanimity of the agreement, this could still be described as a strong signal to the Syrian regime. But given the dominance of the Gulf States in the OIC, it was entirely predictable – and will probably be just as ineffective as most of the resolutions passed by international organizations like the United Nations or the Arab League in response to the bloodbath in Syria.
The Syrian conflict is increasingly becoming a theater of war where external powers wrestle over regional hegemony. On one side is Iran and its allies – on the other side is the "Sunni camp," including the Gulf States and Turkey, supported by their traditional partners in the West, who also want to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power. Is this Western support justified? And is it politically wise? Yes, but there are caveats.
It depends on how Western support is offered, and on what conditions. Morally, the Western states are practically obliged, given their value system, to support the insurrection against President Bashar Assad's brutal system – even if some rebels are now using similarly violent methods against civilians, and even committing war crimes if UN reports are to be believed.
This does not bode well for post-Assad Syria. And yet there can be no doubt that Assad's government must be brought down as soon as possible – or the suffering of the Syrian population will only be prolonged. The West must aim to bring about Assad's fall just as much as the majority of OIC states.
But at the same time, Europe and the US must not give the impression that their security policy is to support Sunni powers in the region, at the expense of the Shiites. It must not remain blind to human rights violations in the Gulf region. We cannot afford to promote double standards in this volatile part of the world.