Syrian uprising is gaining momentum and support, when will Bashar al-Assad finally step down?


The protests and uprising in Syria have been gaining momentum ever since the event which sparked the beginning of the unrest.  The uprising against the Syrian government began on 26 January 2011, when Hasan Ali Akleh poured petrol over his head and set himself on fire, in the same way Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi had in Tunis on 17 December 2010. However the protestors have met fierce opposition by the government; it is estimated by the UN that 3500 people have been killed, many more injured and a large number of protestors have been illegally detained by the Syrian police and military.  Some of those detained have claimed to have been victims of torture while in custody.  It is now believed that Syria may be the next domino to fall in the Arab world and the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad will either step down or be removed from power.  However the Syrian government is less likely to fall unless there is some sort of intervention by the international community. 

A military intervention by foreign powers is extremely unlikely unless the situation in Syria deteriorates even further, with some countries including the US having firmly stated that they will not use military power against the Syrian government.  US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in May 2011 that the US will not intervene as they did in Libya, she even referred to Assad as a ‘reformer’.  Clinton hinted that she believed that he would bow to public pressure and reform or resign.  However in October the relations between the US and Syria sunk to an all time low as the US recalled their Syrian ambassador Robert Ford, because of fears about his safety.

Not only have the Syrian government killed and detained hundreds of protestors since January 2011 but there have also been reports of soldiers using torture, rape and mutilation as methods of quashing dissent. In July 2011 Amnesty International claimed that they have proof that the Syrian government had committed crimes against humanity in the town of Tall Kalakh and they have called for a response from the UN and the international community.  Syrian and international human rights groups urged the prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to investigate the killing of civilians during protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad, however the ICC said that its jurisdiction could only cover crimes which have been committed by nationals of ICC member states.  Unfortunately Syria is not one of the 119 ICC member states and neither are many states involved in the Arab Spring, so many war crimes and crimes against humanity which were committed in the Arab Spring uprisings would not be punishable by the ICC, unless the alleged war crimes were reffered to the court by the UN Security Council or the country involved accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC.

The successful uprisings in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia have given hope to rebels in other Arab states such as Syria and Yemen and they have shown that it is possible to overthrow an oppressive dictator or monarch, especially if the international community decide to intervene as they did in Libya. Recently there have been calls for the international community to intervene, although it is widely held that any military action by the western world against the Syrian government may exacerbate the situation in Syria and surrounding states.  As military action is unlikely, any possible action against Syria is likely to be economical and political. There has been no indication to what these sanctions would be, but it is likely that trade embargoes could be put in place and financial assets could be frozen on a wider scale than they already are.

The international community have condemned the actions of the Syrian government and on the 9th of November the Arab League voted to suspend Syria and warned that they would impose economic sanctions unless the violence towards protestors stopped immediately. The US and Canada have frozen all assets in North America which belong to Bashar al-Assad and the EU have also imposed financial and travel sanction on the Syrian President.

There have been calls by various Arab diplomats for Britain to act as ‘team leader’ in an offensive action against the Syrian government. Talks are currently underway in London and Paris between representatives of the British government and the pro-democracy Syrian rebels, many of whom have been exiled from Syria.  The Syrian rebels and many diplomats within the Arab world want Britain and other western countries to discuss organising actions which would cause the fall of Bashar al-Assad and also discuss what to do when the Syrian government is finally toppled.  Britain haven’t confirmed or denied that they will take charge of the action against Syria, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Parliament last week that “President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside”.  He also stated that Britain and other EU countries were considering economic sanctions which could be imposed on the Syrian government.

It is unlikely that the UN would sanction any military action against the Syrian government as that could cause even more unrest in Syria and neighbouring countries, however the UN may deem it necessary to intervene with force if the violence escalates to the level that it did in Libya.  For example, if the Syrian government started using air power on its own citizens then the UN would probably allow military intervention by other countries as it did in Libya.

The pressure on the government to reform is gaining strength every day and it can only mean that the fall of the Syrian government is now an inevitability.  The main questions which remain are how long will it take, and how many lives will be lost in the fight for freedom and democracy?

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Posted on November 22, 2011, in Foreign Affairs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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