Many in Middle East oppose E.U. decision on Syria arms embargo

A Free Syrian Army fighter shoots at Syrian Army positions in Menag, Syria. (EPA/Maysun)
A Free Syrian Army fighter shoots at Syrian Army positions in Menag, Syria. (EPA/Maysun)

The European Union's decision to let a Syrian arms embargo lapse -- paving the way for member countries to arm Syrian rebels -- got a warm reaction from many officials in Britain, France and the United States. But the move has been more contentious in the Middle East, where polls have shown people generally oppose foreign military intervention.

Newspaper editorial writers from Iran to Israel condemned the lapse as a dangerous escalation of the ongoing civil conflict, the BBC Monitoring service reported Wednesday morning. Generally, their complaints fall into three camps: more weapons will only heat up the conflict; the E.U. should have waited for the upcoming peace talks in Geneva; and foreigners -- including Russia and the U.S. -- should just stay out, in general.

(Pew Research Center)
(Pew Research Center)

That seems to echo popular sentiment across the Middle East. A March poll by the Pew Research Center found that majorities in five of six countries (Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories) opposed American and European attempts to arm Syrian rebels. Most people don't even want their own government to intervene -- the same poll found that only Jordan supported sending military aid north.

Similar polls of Middle Eastern and North African countries after NATO's intervention in Libya found that action was unpopular. Columnist Dahlia Scheindlin at Israel's +972 magazine says the reason is the history of other botched Western actions in the region. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay put it more bluntly: Giving arms to Syria, she said on Wednesday, legitimizes a conflict that could deteriorate further.

"The important E.U. decision to lift the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition paves the way for a huge escalation in the war in Syria," Mazin Hammad summed up in a column for Qatar's Al-Watan translated by the BBC. "Hopes are pinned on the success of the second Geneva conference in easing the deadlock, otherwise the whole region will drown in a wider and more destructive conflict."

The lapse of the ban has, of course, seen significantly more support among Syrian rebels, who, in the hours since the E.U. decision, have even embraced their own kind of public opinion polling. On Tuesday afternoon, the Guardian posted an online survey asking readers to weigh in on whether the E.U. was "right" to end the arms embargo. Across the Syrian Twitterverse, dozens of people tweeted the link -- and encouraged their followers to vote "yes."

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey · May 29, 2013