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Published on November 17th, 2011 | by Lauren Beard
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="280" caption="Shoes hanging on portraits of Assad in a demonstration."][/caption] The violent clashes between dissenters and the Syrian government has remained a focus in the Middle East since the protests began in March this year that are calling for fundamental human rights such as democracy and freedom, both of which are denied by the current government led by President Bashar al-Assad. According to the UN, more than 3,500 people have died since the protests began, resulting in more urgent calls for Assad to step aside. This week, King Abdullah of Jordan became the first Arab leader to speak out against the Syrian leader and his repressive regime. In an interview with the BBC on Monday, Abdullah condemned the violence at the hands of Assad’s regime, saying that “whenever you exert violence on your own people, it is never going to end well”. There has been growing international pressure from European and US powers for Assad to surrender power, however the imposition of sanctions against Syrian oil exports are not likely to have a major impact on Syria’s largely self-sufficient economy or destabilise Assad’s regime with any immediate effect. These comments went much further than any other Arab leaders have, as he even called for Assad to step aside and to pave the way for a new phase of Syrian political life. Coupled with the Arab League’s suspension of Syria, and their three-day warning to Assad to end the ‘bloody repression’, this presents a major turning point in the crisis. As he has increasingly isolated himself from foreign states and made it clear that he is not interested in dialogue with countries that have condemned the violence in Syria, how much longer can Assad survive in power? Is his departure as imminent as conventional wisdom would suggest? As King Abdullah claimed in his interview, it is not realistic to believe that the removal of Assad will lead to the dramatic political reform that is necessary in Syria, nor is there a clear path toward democracy, however it is a step in the right direction. The repression in place has been an inherent feature of Syrian politics for decades, as the use of the military to suppress riots, protests and civil unrest has been seen many times throughout history and Freedom House has regularly released reports denouncing the lack of women’s rights, freedom of speech, political rights and civil liberties. Input from the international community is vital in bringing an end to the repression. Thus far, the UN Security Council has adopted a ‘non-binding’ statement that condemns the crimes against humanity carried out by the regime and urges Assad to put the reforms he promised into action: a stark contrast to the Security Council’s rapid response to the crisis in Libya. The West is not keen to intervene militarily in another crisis in the Middle East, and King Abdullah echoed Assad’s previous claims that western intervention would open a ‘Pandora’s box’, therefore Foreign Secretary William Hague has welcomed intervention on behalf of Jordan and other neighbouring Arab states. By bringing leading members of Assad’s regime to trial, the International Criminal Court could potentially encourage members of the security services as well as other powerful supporters to break away from Assad and also deter them from continuing to commit crimes against humanity under his authority for fear of indictment. Recently, NATO has announced that they do not have any intention to intervene, partly due to the lessons learned in Libya, however emphasising that NATO have completely ruled out further action in Syria emboldens Assad and his supporters, therefore it may have been more effective to hint at possible intervention should he fail to carry out the reforms he has promised, or to simply not refer to their plans for Syria at all. Similarly, economic sanctions that will hurt Assad and his powerful supporters would be more effective than an embargo on oil exports that largely affects the civilian population. It is clear that hitting Assad at the core is the most effective way of weakening his regime and reducing his loyal support base which are key to accelerating Assad’s decline, the main question now is who will succeed him in power.

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Ending the ‘Bloody Repression’ in Syria

Shoes hanging on portraits of Assad in a demonstration.

The violent clashes between dissenters and the Syrian government has remained a focus in the Middle East since the protests began in March this year that are calling for fundamental human rights such as democracy and freedom, both of which are denied by the current government led by President Bashar al-Assad. According to the UN, more than 3,500 people have died since the protests began, resulting in more urgent calls for Assad to step aside. This week, King Abdullah of Jordan became the first Arab leader to speak out against the Syrian leader and his repressive regime.

In an interview with the BBC on Monday, Abdullah condemned the violence at the hands of Assad’s regime, saying that “whenever you exert violence on your own people, it is never going to end well”. There has been growing international pressure from European and US powers for Assad to surrender power, however the imposition of sanctions against Syrian oil exports are not likely to have a major impact on Syria’s largely self-sufficient economy or destabilise Assad’s regime with any immediate effect.

These comments went much further than any other Arab leaders have, as he even called for Assad to step aside and to pave the way for a new phase of Syrian political life. Coupled with the Arab League’s suspension of Syria, and their three-day warning to Assad to end the ‘bloody repression’, this presents a major turning point in the crisis. As he has increasingly isolated himself from foreign states and made it clear that he is not interested in dialogue with countries that have condemned the violence in Syria, how much longer can Assad survive in power? Is his departure as imminent as conventional wisdom would suggest?

As King Abdullah claimed in his interview, it is not realistic to believe that the removal of Assad will lead to the dramatic political reform that is necessary in Syria, nor is there a clear path toward democracy, however it is a step in the right direction. The repression in place has been an inherent feature of Syrian politics for decades, as the use of the military to suppress riots, protests and civil unrest has been seen many times throughout history and Freedom House has regularly released reports denouncing the lack of women’s rights, freedom of speech, political rights and civil liberties.

Input from the international community is vital in bringing an end to the repression. Thus far, the UN Security Council has adopted a ‘non-binding’ statement that condemns the crimes against humanity carried out by the regime and urges Assad to put the reforms he promised into action: a stark contrast to the Security Council’s rapid response to the crisis in Libya. The West is not keen to intervene militarily in another crisis in the Middle East, and King Abdullah echoed Assad’s previous claims that western intervention would open a ‘Pandora’s box’, therefore Foreign Secretary William Hague has welcomed intervention on behalf of Jordan and other neighbouring Arab states.

By bringing leading members of Assad’s regime to trial, the International Criminal Court could potentially encourage members of the security services as well as other powerful supporters to break away from Assad and also deter them from continuing to commit crimes against humanity under his authority for fear of indictment. Recently, NATO has announced that they do not have any intention to intervene, partly due to the lessons learned in Libya, however emphasising that NATO have completely ruled out further action in Syria emboldens Assad and his supporters, therefore it may have been more effective to hint at possible intervention should he fail to carry out the reforms he has promised, or to simply not refer to their plans for Syria at all. Similarly, economic sanctions that will hurt Assad and his powerful supporters would be more effective than an embargo on oil exports that largely affects the civilian population. It is clear that hitting Assad at the core is the most effective way of weakening his regime and reducing his loyal support base which are key to accelerating Assad’s decline, the main question now is who will succeed him in power.

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