Big things are happening in the Middle East today. Reports the Financial Times (subscription required):
The Arab League will seek United Nations Security Council endorsement for a plan to peacefully end the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and pave the way for a democratically elected government within six months, it was announced on Sunday night…
Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference in Cairo that the plan called for Mr Assad to hand power to a national unity government under a compromise president within two months and for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held within six months.
This a dramatic shift from the League’s previous stance, which consisted of sending a “fact-finding mission” to Syria, headed by a Sudanese war criminal who, astonishingly, found little evidence of wrongdoing. (Unsurprisingly, the FT notes that the League’s call for regime change “came as a shock to some of the group’s monitors in Damascus.”)
The Butcher of Damascus is slipping, but he hasn’t fallen. With the League attacking him in the security council, his proxy Hamas shopping around for new patrons, and the US preparing to shutter its Syrian embassy, his situation is more precarious than ever. But don’t count him out yet. The Arab League excels at empty rhetoric, and whether it will back up its pledge remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Russia today announced the sale of 36 combat jets to Syria, an action which speaks far louder than the League’s words.
Is the Arab League venting or is it edging toward legitimating the use of force to drive Assad out? Are the Turks ready to support an intervention? The answers to these questions will gradually become more clear as time goes by.