Al Jazeera reports: Syria’s foreign minister has condemned the Arab League’s threat to suspend the country over its crackdown on protests, saying the move would be “illegal” and a “dangerous step”.
“The suspension of the Arab League membership is illegal,” Walid al-Muallem told a press conference in Damascus on Monday.
Al-Muallem also criticised the Cairo-based regional bloc’s relations with the United States, calling the US an “unofficial member” of the league.
“The Arab League said it worked for stopping the violence in Syria and said the US is not a member of the Arab League… but they are an unofficial member,” he said.
Al-Muallem added that he was confident Russia and China, who have rejected calls for tougher international action against Damascus, would not change their stance on Syria at the UN Security Council.
The foreign minister also apologised for attacks on foreign diplomatic missions over the weekend. Government supporters raided the Qatari and Saudi embassies in Damascus on Saturday night. On Sunday, the Turkish embassy and consulates were attacked.
The New York Times reports: Turkey sent planes to evacuate its diplomats’ families from Syria on Sunday after a night of attacks on foreign embassies in Damascus, the capital. The events seemed sure to deepen Syria’s most pronounced isolation of the four decades of Assad family rule.
Several thousand Syrians attacked the embassies and consulates of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and France on Saturday evening, shortly after the Arab League announced its surprising decision to suspend Syria’s membership for failing to end the bloody crackdown on antigovernment protesters.
Turkey’s evacuation, and denunciations of the attacks by other countries, set the stage for a tumultuous week in the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which began in March.
The Arab League has invited Syrian opposition figures to Cairo on Tuesday in what seems to be a bid to close the ranks of an unwieldy group. If Syria does not relent in its crackdown, which the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people, the suspension will take effect on Wednesday.
The Los Angeles Times notes the growing influence of Qatar which currently chairs the Arab League.
Little Qatar, far away in the Persian Gulf, doesn’t have the physical or military presence of Turkey. But it does have outsized ambitions, diplomatic dexterity, extreme wealth — and the populist force of its Al Jazeera network. Qatar stoked the early days of the Arab Spring and became a leading and sometimes controversial voice for government change in Libya, a role it has now assumed in Syria.
The emirate’s leaders have keenly understood — and certainly benefited from — the changing dynamics reshaping an Arab world unbound from autocrats and suppression.
Qatar is capitalizing on, and Assad is in danger of succumbing to, the most transformative moment in the region since the doomed specter of pan-Arabism of the 1960s. The powers that made up the core of that world have steadily diminished over the years while the oil nations of the Persian Gulf have assumed larger roles in diplomacy, finance and media.
In some respects, Qatar’s influence is eclipsing even that of traditional powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Riyadh has been accused of hypocrisy in its vociferous support for dissidents in Syria while simultaneously helping to crush protests in neighboring Bahrain. Egypt, meanwhile, is consumed with its own political turmoil in the wake of President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
Qatar’s ambitions are often larger than regional conflicts and dalliances. To the envy of its neighbors, Doha won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup soccer championship, based partly on an audacious promise to install high-tech air conditioning to cool stadiums during the sweltering gulf summer.
The emirate is adroit at playing all sides: It is home to a U.S. military base, yet it keeps close to the passions of the Arab street through Al Jazeera and maintains cordial relations with Iran, the regional giant just across the gulf.