By Fatima Alsmadi
Has Iran’s position on Syria begun to change? This is a crucial question, as Iran’s tone toward military action against Syria has altered from being threatening throughout years of supporting the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Asad, to milder rhetoric. It appears that the issues around the use of chemical weapons instigated this change. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, strongly criticised the use of chemical weapons in a Twitter post, and his subsequent tweets supported the forcible prevention of their use. This coincided with the threat of a military strike on Syria – Iran’s strategic ally in the region – by the United States and some of its allies.
Executive Director at the Afro-Middle East Centre, Na'eem Jeenah. discusses the implications of Syria joining multi-national talks with Russia and the USA.
Na'eem Jeenah of the Afro-Middle East Centre says the world is closely watching the volatile situation in Syria and while everyone agrees that chemical warfare was used in last week's attack, opinions differ on exactly who used it.
Fazila Farouk of SACSIS talks to Na'eem Jeenah of the Afro-Middle East Centre about developments in the Middle East, particularly, given the threat of external military intervention looming over Syria and the undoing of the Egyptian revolution, where a military coup has unseated a democratically elected government.
Both the revolution in Egypt and the calls for the removal of Syria's dictator are rooted in the struggles and mobilization of ordinary people on the ground. The problem is that citizens' action is not leading to the realization of democratic rights for the people of the Middle East. Jeenah addresses this problem and its implications for citizens' action in South Africa.
Transcript Of Interview
FAZILA FAROUK: Welcome to the South African Civil Society Information Service, I'm Fazila Farouk coming to you this morning from the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg.
We're at the Afro-Middle East Centre because we're going to focus our discussion this morning on events in the Middle East, which as you know have been very much in the news these past few weeks. Starting with Egypt's failed revolution a few weeks back when a military coup removed the democratically elected government and reinstalled Egypt's generals and then moving on to the situation in Syria, which as we all know, is incredibly topical at the moment with the Obama administration threatening military action on the Syrian government for what it claims are chemical attacks that took place, and which it blames the Syrian government for.
Helping us to make sense of these issues, this morning is Na'eem Jeenah, the director of the Afro-Middle East Centre.
Welcome to SACSIS Na'eem.
NA'EEM JEENAH: Thank you, Fazila.
FAZILA FAROUK: I'd like you to unpack for us what is going on in the Middle East. We'll start with Syria, particularly, the popular movement that called for the removal of a dictator that's now being co-opted by forces much bigger than itself.
We've seen what's happened in Syria; we've seen the failed revolution of Egypt, which has its roots in citizens' action. The problem is that citizens' action is not leading to the realization of democratic rights for people in the Middle East. And I'd like to have a conversation about that and its meaning for South Africa.
Na'eem Jeenah, AMEC's executive director, was interviewed on 'Morning Live' on the South African national radio station SAfm, on 13 March 2012 about the mission of former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan to Syria. Annan has been jointly appointed as envoy to Syria by the United Nations and the Arab League. Annan met Syrian president Bashar al-Asad twice over the weekend (10-11 March) and also had meetings with members of Damascus-based opposition groups. He was due to meet the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) in Turkey on Tuesday, 13 March. Jeenah noted that the situation in Syria was getting worse and bloodier, as gruesome incidents in Homs over the weekend indicated.
Asked about the SNC's comment that Annan's visit to Damascus was 'useless', Jeenah said that if one side in a conflict regarded the role of a mediator as 'useless', that brought into question the entire mission of the mediator. He added that, in fact, the potential effectiveness of Annan's mission was open to question from the time he was appointed in this position.
Asked why the 'international community' was not doing anything about the Syrian crisis, Jeenah said there was no unified 'international community' and that different parts of the international community believed they were 'doing something'. Russia, China, the Arab League, the European Union, for example, he said, all believed that they were making proposals for a resolution to the crisis. Part of the problem, he added, was that the 'international community' was 'as fractured as the Syrian opposition' was.