May 6, 2011
On the 15th of March, Bashar al-Assad’s regime saw a protest of about 150 people at Damascus, Syria’s capital. The demand was to release the regime’s political prisoners but the response was a violent dispersal of protesters. In classic irony, many were even detained. This would spark a series of well-attended demonstrations which has characterized the worsening political situation of the country for the past month.
Considered “an armed insurrection” by the government, the wave of protests has been said to be the worst political challenge for the Ba’ath party’s rule since it took over Syria in 1963. According to reports, approximately 560 protesters had been killed and 1,000 arrested around the country, a situation far removed from the promises of political reform in 2000 when Bashar was sworn into presidency after his father’s death.
Assad’s intolerance of dissent has gained much criticism in the world stage. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the use of violence on demonstrators and their unlawful arrests are unacceptable. At the moment, the UN and the EU have only gone so far with intervention as sending a diplomatic envoy to Syria. Also, given NATO’s miscalculations in the Libya military operations, doubts on the alleviation of the Syrian situation abound.
Attempts to appease demonstrators by lifting the niqab ban, repealing the emergency law and granting citizenship to Kurds have been deemed useless by protesters. As exiled former Syrian vice president, Abdel Halim Khaddam said, “it is not the state of emergency that fires on people”.
Dead bodies stored in a vegetable freezer and not returned to their families, protesters shot at by army snipers and shoot-outs during funerals are only few of the images that make up this gruesome picture. Violence has increasingly intensified along with protests and countless human rights violations. Evidently, the situation necessitates intervention but the basis for it goes beyond what happens on the streets.
Unlike Libya, Syria is a society of diverse culture, religion and ethnicity. Its population is composed of a majority of Alawite Shias and Arab Sunnis as well as Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians and Druze. This diversity is something the regime can capitalize on, posing the threat of secular violence to the already unstable country. Also, with Syria having close ties with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran, both of which strongly oppose Israel, the instability may shaken the alliance and lead to a precarious situation for Lebanon, adding to the already volatile political situation in the Middle East. It is highly possible that a halt on oil production may occur, leading to higher prices in the world market.
In the end, the Syria situation is a threat to worldwide security in several levels. Freezing assets and diplomatic negotiations can only do so much considering Assad’s reformist façade. This time, power struggles among NATO member states must be put aside, and a strategic intervention with the least damage on the lives of civilians must follow.
Note: Article was written before sanctions were imposed on Al-Assad and senior officials.