Facing mounting pressure, the Arab League called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to immediately cease the brutal hostilities against his people.
By a near-unanimous vote, the Arab League expressed its hard-line position against Damascus through the threat of economic and political sanctions if the ultimatum is not responded to by Wednesday. This decision demonstrates the urgency of the regional states to resolve this conflict through peaceful means. And the latest attempt to isolate Damascus is a belated affirmation by the Arab League that such disregard for human rights will not be tolerated.
This past weekend, pro-Assad demonstrators attacked several diplomatic missions on the grounds that they favored the recent Arab League sanctions. Turkey, which is not a member of the Arab League, has repeatedly criticized the Assad regime and did fall victim to such mob attacks. Similar acts occurred against the Saudi, French, and Qatari diplomatic missions. The Assad regime also orchestrated mob attacks on the U.S. embassy in Damascus last July.
In recent months, the international community has supported the Syrian people and called for Assad to step down, yet the most recent government leader to voice this sentiment is King Abdullah of Jordan. “If Bashar has the interest of his country, he would step down,” declared the Jordanian ruler and first Arab leader to call for such action in an interview with the BBC. Other nations have recalled their diplomats in protest.
The Syrian dictator has perpetrated a brutal crackdown against opposition forces since March, and, according to a United Nations report, has killed over 3,500 people. In a November 2 agreement, Damascus had agreed to cease hostilities, withdraw its tanks, and engage the opposition in talks, but it has failed to comply in all three requests, instead launching what some call the deadliest assaults of the eight-month crackdown.
This misleading performance was the primary driver that pushed the Arab League to finally take action. The Arab League has concluded that Damascus must halt hostile behavior and that this high level of Arab support can only strengthen the Syrian people and damage Assad’s resolve.
Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, the current Arab League chairman and foreign minister of Qatar, affirmed that the aim is to avoid another military intervention. “Syria is a dear country to all of us, so it pains us to take this decision.” However, Hamad further clarified that “We want to find a solution to the problem within the Arab framework.”
To hasten the halt of the regime’s brutality, European governments have further sanctioned 18 individuals with ties to the ongoing conflict. Such deterrents come on the heels of August sanctions by both European powers and the United States.
The recent actions by the Arab League and Western powers should stimulate support for the opposition, which is primarily comprised of peaceful dissidents yearning for reform. One report listed the opposition as claiming the allegiance of as many as 10,000 former Syrian army personnel. If the regime continues its brutal repression, there is cause for concern that the situation could turn into an all-out civil war.
The Arab League and the world have an opportunity to help the Syrian people through economic sanctions against the Assad regime. But given the increased hostilities by Damascus in recent days, have sanctions by the international community come too late?
Taylor Butch is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm