Roundtable Discussion Closes Conference on the Arab World and Russia:  A Call to Open Channels for Communication and Cooperation

The question of Russian conduct in Syria loomed large in the closing session of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies’ two-day conference in Doha on the Arab world and Russia, and formed the basis for an animated, sometimes heated, but invariably civil and friendly dialogue among conference participants. The preceding two days of papers presented at the conference had effectively highlighted the extreme complexity of competing perspectives and interests, between and within the Arab region and Russia; a complexity that was seen to have emerged in a unipolar world, and that gave way to a devastating toll in a region subjected to the unrestrained military, economic and political interventions of the US, and the West more generally.

Raising Questions about Russian Conduct in Syria Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Being in Favor of American Policies There

A perspective commonly articulated during the conference is that the Russian leadership, in what appears to have been a reflex reaction to these new global realities, committed a huge and tragic mistake in siding against the Syrian people’s demand for freedom and democracy, and in choosing to support an oppressive regime.   

Excluding Russian policy in Syria, most participants recognized that there should be no reasons for conflict between the Arab world and Russian interests and policies. Conferences such as the present, commented one of the participants, “enable us to imagine a common Arab interest, and a joint Arab relationship with the ‘other’ ”:  participants can work together to forge an “Arab blueprint for a renewed relationship with Russia”, along with a vision of the key values that should inform this relationship in the future. The importance of values, and their link to justice, were highlighted throughout the conference, as was the emphasis on respect for international law, a sentiment aptly summarized by one of the participants:  When a population is massacred, we have to say “NO.”  Otherwise, we lose our humanity.”

The Fundamental Question: Why Provide Support to a Regime that is Committing Genocide 

In his closing remarks, ACRPS Director General Azmi Bishara observed: “We hope this will be the beginning of a process of cooperation and dialogue with our Russian and Arab brothers. As scholars, none of us here represent regimes, neither Russian nor Arab […] the values of tyranny cannot be compared with those of freedom and democracy.  But when we see that the Russian position on revolution in Egypt, for example, was clearly against there being any democratic transformation in Egypt, we have to ask, “Why?” – especially since neither the Egyptian military nor the Egyptian regime itself were friends of Russia. It would appear that the Russian leadership reacted in fear to the whole Arab Spring, and that they took an a priori negative stance against the drive of the Arab Spring, rather than adapting a more friendly position towards what was, at root, an Arab popular demand for democracy and freedom […] In conferences such as these, we are in favor of these matters being discussed, and in favor of opening up channels for communication and cooperation. But let us not deceive ourselves. There is a genocide underway in Syria. The fundamental question for the Russian leadership is that of providing support to a regime that is committing genocide.