“Oh, to be a bad man in Africa,” Syrian President Bashar al Assad might have wistfully thought as he watched the AU cravenly resist all international pressure and refuse to condemn the regimes of Mubarak and Gaddafi. Assad is not getting such an easy ride from his own regional body, the League of Arab Nations. In a rare fit of conscience, it’s imposed strict timelines on Assad to reform his Syrian government which has cracked down so harshly on this year’s popular opposition, killing upwards of 3,000 people.
And he’s not getting such an easy ride from the United Nations either, which keeps trying to impose sanctions on his country, blocked only by the intransigence of Syria’s powerful allies – China and Russia – in the UN Security Council.
So to try to drum up a bit of international support, Bashar thought it might be a good idea to harness Africa’s softly-softly approach to vicious dictators, sending deputy foreign minister Fayssal Mikdad to Addis Ababa, with a mandate to explain Syria’s position and request AU endorsement at the UN. Mikdad explained to the African Union that Syria’s package of proposed reforms was acceptable to the masses and that Syria was a victim of a Western-orchestrated media-led smear campaign of lies and distortion. So reported the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, which is not itself unfamiliar with campaigns of lies and distortion.
But the AU, to its credit, was having none of this. Commissioner Jean Ping told Syria to implement genuine reforms and respect the will of its people if it wanted to preserve its stability. On his African expedition, Mikdad also stopped in Khartoum, where he received a more favourable response – the two countries share a remarkably similar persecution complex. DM
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