Bosnian ambassador at the U.N.
Ivan Barbalic -- silent president
of the Security Council - (photo
Cia Pak for Webpublicapress)
Though the political unrest sweeping across Egypt, and other parts of the Arab world, threatens to topple the region's long-standing political order, the U.N. Security Council, the world's premier guardian of international peace and security, has chosen to watch events unfold from the sidelines. The council's presidency, led this month by Bosnia, has scheduled no meetings to address the crisis. None of the key powers, including the United States, has promoted any role for the 15-nation council in discussing the situation.
"As far as I know there is no discussion whatsoever as to what the Security Council can do in the coming days over Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen. It's just not an issue," one council member toldTurtle Bay. "We wouldn't know where to start and what would be the purpose." (Source TURTLE Bay - 2011)
The lack of the U.N. Security Council engagement reflects the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the events unfolding in the region, and the fact that there are no identified representatives of the protesters that can serve as mediators.
However, Egypt's decision to place Mohammad El Baradei -- the former U.N. nuclear watchdog, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Egyptian opposition leader -- under house arrest may boost his political standing by identifying him in the popular imagination with the street protesters cause. Until now, ElBaradei, who has spent much of his career outside Egypt, has not been able to secure a broad popular following.
There are political hurdles that would make U.N. involvement unlikely, including certain opposition from Egypt, one of the U.N.'s most influential third world members, and Yemen, which has already strenuously opposed any U.N. involvement in addressing the country's precarious security situation for years.
Though the Egyptian government seems to have escalated the confrontation by sending tanks into the streets to confront protesters, powerful Security Council members like China and Russia reflexively recoil at the prospect of U.N. intervention in any domestic security crises. Last year, China made it clear it would block any efforts to confront or condemn North Korea for its attacks on South Korea.
For the United States, meanwhile, the fate of Egypt, a vital ally in the Middle East, is too important a matter to be left to the U.N. Security Council, which generally manages the world's second-tier crises.
The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon, meanwhile, has emerged as the most prominent U.N. voice on the crisis. In a press conference today in Davos, Switzerland, Ban sought to strike a careful balance between backing the demonstrators' right to protest, hinting at the failure of the region's leaders to meet public needs, while encouraging both sides to engage in talks aimed at defusing the political standoff.
Ban said the region's leaders have a responsibility to "care for their own people" and that the popular unrest provides them with "an opportunity to engage in addressing the legitimate concerns and wishes of their peoples." But he also blasted the region's governments for forcibly cracking down on the public protests and cutting off Internet access. "The leaders of any country have a broad responsibility, and at the same time a mandate, to listen attentively to the wishes of [their] people: what are their challenges, their difficulties," he added. "Freedom of expression and association should be fully respected."
At the same time, Ban sought to make it clear that he does not favor an overthrow of the Egyptian government. When a reporter mistakenly suggested that Ban had spoken out in favor of revolution in Egypt, Ban quickly corrected the journalist, saying he had been talking about the need for revolutionary action to combat global warming.
"What I said...was we need to take some revolutionary thinking, revolutionary action in addressing climate change...So please do not make a misunderstanding of that particular word," Ban cautioned.