Arab states condemnation of Turkey's 'Peace Spring' exposes double standards and hidden agendas

Arab states condemnation of Turkey's 'Peace Spring' exposes double standards and hidden agendas
Egypt and Saudi Arabia attempted to mobilise Arab states to denounce the Turkish military operation in northern Syria, but there was no consensus among them on the matter.
8 min read
18 October, 2019
Representatives of the League of Arab states attend the emergency meeting in Cairo [Getty]
On Saturday Arab states gathered in Cairo to rail against what they termed Turkey's 'invasion of Syria'. This came after a formal request from Egypt to hold an emergency meeting for the Arab League to condemn the Turkish incursion in northern Syria.

However, the Arab League's meeting exposed the double standards of its members states when it comes to defending Syria's sovereignty and exposed their own political hostility to Turkey regardless of its actions.

Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria on October 9 just days after US troops pulled back from the area. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the aim was to eliminate what he called a "terror corridor" on Turkey's southern border, but European countries called on Ankara to halt the operation.

Turkey says that Article 51 of the UN charter guarantees Ankara the right for self-defence mainly for two reasons. Firstly, that Assad is in no control of Syria and secondly that the Kurdish YPG is an offshoot of PKK, which is a designated terrorist organisation by the United States, the European Union, NATO, as well as Turkey. It further added that "its presence in northern Syria gives Turkey a legitimate reason to intervene."

However, the Arab League sees the operation as an attack on the sovereignty of Syria, a member state, despite having suspended its seat following the Assad regime's brutal crackdown on his people.

But regardless of the Turkish justifications, the Arab League has put itself in a critical situation where everyone can see its contradictions and double standards.

During the Saturday meeting, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit called Turkey's military action an "invasion" and an "aggression" against an Arab state.

Worse than 1975: Trump's cynical betrayal of the Kurds
Read also: Worse than 1975: Trump's
cynical betrayal of the Kurds

He said the Arab League "condemns the invasion" and that "the world must not accept it, either, since it contradicts international norms and international law, no matter what pretext the invader uses”.

However, almost half of the Arab states in attendance had not sent their top diplomats, instead choosing to participate with a lower level, indicating the lack of Arab consensus on the subject.

Three Arab countries chose to practice their sovereign rights upon issuing the final statement; Libya objected, while Qatar and Somalia placed reservations. But on October 15, Qatar defended its close ally Turkey's military offensive, saying Ankara had acted against an "imminent threat". Other countries such as Morocco said the final communique doesn't necessarily reflect the country's official position.

The Libyan foreign ministry, on the other hand, objected to the statement and the request to degrade diplomatic relations and cooperation with Turkey.

The Libyan High Council of State slammed the Arab League citing its double standards toward the regional issues, saying: "The decisions of the Arab League have become hostage to the agendas of some Arab countries such as Egypt and the UAE that violate the charter of the Arab League (articles 2 and 8) by tearing apart the social fabric of Libya by destabilising Libya, threatening its territorial integrity and tearing apart its social fabric".

Another failure of the meeting is that it did not denounce the presence of any of the foreign militaries and militias inside Syria such as Iran, Russia, the US, France, and Britain.

Moreover, Assad himself had not asked the Arab League to defend him, affirming what many already believe – that spite policies are the main driver for the countries that had rallied for the meeting to condemn Turkey.

Ankara swiftly responded to the Arab League statement, strongly condemning its chief for "levelling allegations" against its ongoing operation.

The spokesman for the foreign ministry noted that the Arab League was "defending a terrorist group that aims to divide the Arab homeland," instead of "defending the rights and law of Syrian Arabs."

Erdogan blasted both Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular for their criticism of the military action. The Turkish leader emphasised the empty words of some Arab states saying, "They are not honest, they just make up words… We, however, take action and that is the difference between us."

Read also: Only peace between Turkey and the PKK can bring stability to northern Syria

Erdogan then went on to slam the Egyptian president, saying, "As for Egypt, Sisi, don't ever speak about us! You are a murderer of democracy in your country. You are a murderer!"

The Egyptian-Saudi agenda against Turkey

Egypt's foreign ministry said in a statement on the same day that it "condemned in the strongest terms the Turkish aggression on Syrian territory," saying the offensive "represents a blatant and unacceptable attack on the sovereignty of a brotherly Arab state." 

But just before the Arab meeting in Cairo, Egypt – which led the diplomatic effort against Turkey – invited PYD leaders. Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri hosted Ilham Ahmad, Riyad Darrar, and Sihanok Dibo at the Foreign Ministry.

Sisi's regime is also known to have good relations with the Assad regime in Syria especially on security and intelligence levels. In both countries, the army and the intelligence are the ruling bodies of the state.

Some observers think that Egypt is establishing a tit-for-tat pattern, especially after the strong speech of the Turkish president against Sisi during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly last month.

Others, however, believe that by raising its voice against Turkey, Sisi's regime is trying to deflect attention from the worsening internal problems it is facing lately, particularly concerning the huge corruption in the army and the state as a whole.

Public discontent is on the rise due to what most Egyptians tend to describe as an act of treason committed by Sisi's regime, mainly regarding three issues: transferring the sovereignty of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, assigning some of Egypt's rights in the Eastern Mediterranean gas to Israel and Cyprus, and doing nothing to protect Egypt's share in the Nile water.

Moreover, Egypt has been taking part lately in an emerging anti-Turkish alliance in the Eastern Mediterranean with Israel, Cyprus and Greece to designed to undermine Ankara's ambition as a regional energy hub, counter its growing hard power, and keep it away from utilising the hydrocarbon resources in the area.

However, Egypt being part of this alliance is also seen by many experts as a sign of weakness rather than strength since Israel is leading this gathering, especially when it comes to security and hard power.

Saudi Arabia is another Arab country that targeted Turkey amid the ongoing developments. Riyadh's media outlets have launched an extensive campaign against Erdogan and the Turkish military operation.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the "kingdom condemns the Turkish incursion in northeastern Syria and demands an immediate end to the military operations," adding, "the Turkish offensive deepens the suffering of the Syrian people."

Erdogan harshly criticised Saudi Arabia, saying "I urge Saudi Arabia to look in the mirror... Who brought Yemen to this state?... Did tens of thousands of people not die in Yemen?"

Al-Jubeir's statement raised eyebrows as many believe Riyadh is showing false concern for the Syrians since the Gulf country is not hosting any Syrian refugees in comparison to Turkey which is responsible over around one-third of the Syrian population.

Moreover, Riyadh seems in contradiction with itself when it pretends to care for the Syrian sovereignty and the Syrian people while implicitly showing solidarity with the Kurdish YPG and the Assad regime. This Saudi behaviour does not add up unless two points are taken into consideration.

Firstly, Turkey's role in uncovering the details of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder inside his country's consulate in Istanbul has left Saudi Arabia still struggling to overcome the damage it left on the country's image, foreign policy, and leadership. For this reason, it could be speculated that Riyadh sees the Turkish military operation as a unique opportunity to take revenge from Ankara over the Khashoggi issue.

Secondly, for quite some time, and since the rise of Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in power, the Saudi position regarding the Syrian crisis and the Assad regime, in particular, has been changing.

Just before initiating the Gulf crisis with Qatar, Saudi Arabia shifted its position towards the Assad regime to be compatible with Egypt and the UAE in comparison to the position of Turkey and Qatar.

Arab helplessness

The strained relations between Turkey and both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are expected to continue in the coming period, however, it is extremely doubtful that the spite policies of Cairo and Riyadh will produce anything useful or positive for the region.

Although the final communique noted that the Arab League threatened to take measures against Turkey in the economic, investment and cultural sectors, including tourism and military cooperation, the statement ultimately delegated the issue to the UN.

This shows that these countries and their allies exert no real influence on the events taking place in their own spheres and their final statement was quite telling about the helplessness of Arab states.

After their meeting, all the Arab states who supported the outcome against Turkey could do was to call on the UN Security Council to "take the necessary measures to stop the Turkish aggression and (for) the withdrawal from Syrian territory immediately".

Ali Bakeer is an Ankara based political analyst/researcher. He holds a PhD in political science and international relations. His interests include Middle East politics with a particular focus on Iran, GCC countries and Turkey.

Follow him on Twitter: @alibakeer