March 26, 2013

The Arab summit opened in Doha today, with Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib giving a speech asking how many years of “systematic slaughter” would have to pass before Syrians “are granted the right to self-defense.”

Al-Khatib spoke in his capacity as representative of Syria in the presence of 16 Arab leaders and the Turkish foreign minister. Nabil al-Arabi, the Secretary General of the Arab League welcomed the summit's action to grant the National Coalition Syria’s seat, officially extending the League’s recognition of it as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The opposition leader, who tendered his resignation on Sunday but has said he would tentatively stay on, welcomed the Arab League decision. “The brave initiative by the Arab League to grant the Syrian people Syria’s seat has given them back part of their legitimate rights of which they have been deprived for 50 years,” he said in his remarks.

Al-Khatib cited three pretexts used to prevent extending support to the rebels: Fears for Syria’s minorities, the chemical arsenal and terror. He accused the Syrian government of targeting minorities, including Alawites, in both Lebanon and Syria. He said that Alawite activists who met in Cairo over the weekend have taken away the ability of the regime to play the minority card.

Al-Khatib broached the topic of regional disarmament, saying it can be decided by a national convention. “I think the Syrian chemical arsenal can be dealt with through a regional deal that empties the entire region of all nuclear and weapons of mass destruction.”

While Syrians are grateful for American assistance, Khatib said, the United States should play more of a role than donating $300 million of humanitarian aid. Al-Khatib said that in his meeting with U.S. State Secretary John Kerry that he requested activating Patriot defenses to cover northern Syria. “We are waiting for a decision by NATO to save people’s lives,” said al-Khatib. “We do not want to fight, but to protect people.”

Observers of the summit inside Syria were cautiously optimistic about its impact.

"It’s a step forward on the political level, but the final word will go to the fighting battalions in the field. This step will not be enough without pushing towards getting Syria’s seat at the UN and preventing Iran, Russia and China from shipping arms to Syria," said Suzan Ahmad, a spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Council in Outer Damascus province.

Omar Abo Shahen, an exiled activist in Cairo, concurred that the meeting propelled the revolution forward. 

"Granting Syria’s seat in the Arab League to the opposition will boost morale among Syrians and give legitimacy to the opposition. That will get them more political, logistic, military and humanitarian assistance," said Abo Shahen who added that "getting the keys to all embassies in the Arab countries" is a crucial next step to extend the power of the National Coalition.

No official reaction has been reported on the summit in Syria’s state media, though official agency SANA reported on Wednesday that shabiha hackers took over the Arab League's website, which was nevertheless functioning normally the same day.

Hezbollah’s channel al-Manar reported that giving the opposition Syria’s seat “will complicate a peaceful solution.” The decision “does not have any legal value, considering that the state continues to have control over its army and institutions among its people.”