Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has accepted the position of Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and League of Arab States for Syria, replacing former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan whose six-point peace plan is dead. The United Nations spokesman announcing the appointment said that the “Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council.”
Brahimi, who is 78 years old, is expected to assume his duties following the expiration of Annan’s mandate on August 31, 2012. “I might very well fail but we sometimes are lucky and we can get a breakthrough,” Brahimi told the BBC in an interview.
Describing the violence in Syria as “absolutely terrible,” Brahimi told Reuters he urgently needed to clarify what support the United Nations can give him and said it was too soon to say whether Assad should step down.
The Syrian government welcomed Brahimi’s appointment. The opposition to the regime has doubts, however, whether it will mean anything. A Syrian opposition leader, Haitham al-Malehhas, predicted that Brahimi will be no more successful than Annan was in finding a way to quell the violence. “The same way the Syrian regime caused the Arab monitors mission, international monitors delegation and Kofi Annan’s initiative to fail, they will cause the failure of Lakhdar Brahimi,” he said.
Brahimi has received high marks from the United Nations in the past for his mediation work in various hotspots, including helping to negotiate the end of Lebanon’s civil war, which his backers, including the Obama administration, hope will be repeated in Syria. He has served the United Nations in various high-level roles over the past two decades, including heading the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and serving In Iraq during the post-Saddam Hussein transition period. As an Algerian diplomat and foreign minister, Brahimi also served with the League of Arab States from 1984 to 1991.
The New York Times described Brahimi as a “widely respected statesman.” However, as impressive as some of Brahimi’s diplomatic accomplishments might appear on paper, a closer examination reveals some disturbing facts about his record.
From 1956 to 1961, during Algeria’s independence struggle against France, Brahimi started out his political career as the socialist National Liberation Front (FLN) representative in South-East Asia, resident in Jakarta, Indonesia. It is estimated that at least 70,000 Muslim civilians were killed or abducted and presumed killed by the FLN during the war for independence and more than 30,000 pro-French Muslims were allegedly killed in Algeria by the FLN in post-war reprisals. Brahimi remained a member of the FLN following Algeria’s independence and began his rise through the diplomatic ranks.
When the Algerian military staged a coup in January 1992, Brahimi was Algeria’s foreign minister. The FLN party, fearing the loss of power to a democratically elected Islamic party, cancelled the elections after the first round. In his role as foreign minister, Brahimi sought to rationalize to the outside world the reasons for the coup, glossing over the atrocities during the civil war that followed the suspension of democracy in the country. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, reported frequent government use of torture and holding of suspects without charge or trial. More than 100,000 lives were lost during the civil war, which Brahimi’s FLN instigated, with the backing of the military, by cancelling the elections.
Is this really the kind of experience that instills confidence in Brahimi’s ability to broker a peace accord in Syria and its transition to democracy?
Brahimi’s supporters point to his diplomatic efforts in Lebanon, where he was given credit for helping to broker the end of the decades-long Lebanese civil war. Brahimi boasted in September 1989 that “we clinched a cease-fire,” leading to the Taif Agreement (also known as the “National Reconciliation Accord”) that supposedly ended the 15-year conflict. “These kinds of satisfactions are the things that one works for,” Brahimi declared.
The only problem with this rosy picture of peace in Lebanon is that the Taif Agreement in actuality planted the seeds for more serious problems to come in that troubled country. Most notably, the agreement ended up ratifying Syria’s occupation of parts of Syria for a period of time and called for the disarming of all militia except Hezbollah, which was accorded a waiver on the grounds that it was a “resistance force” against Israel. Hezbollah today is a dominant force in the Lebanese government and a key supporter of the Assad regime.
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