When the Arab Spring blossomed in earnest last year, there was widespread hope that the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East would swiftly collapse. The results have been decidedly mixed but no government has been as brutal as that of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in its willingness to repress its own citizens in order to cling on to power. An attack launched on the city of Homs last week has already lead to hundreds of deaths. The opposition to Assad has been going strong for nearly a year but the dictator is willing to use all tools at his disposal — including the murder of his own citizens — to ensure his survival. Thus, it is now time for the international community to act before more innocent Syrian lives are taken.
The biggest obstacle to action against the Assad regime is Russia. The Syrian ally vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would support an Arab League plan to transition away from the Assad regime. Russia had also blocked an earlier resolution that sought to place the blame for the violence solely on Assad’s shoulders. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has publicly criticised Russia and China for blocking action and urged the Security Council to work with the Arab League to, at a minimum, send an observer mission to Syria. The Arab League has already placed sanctions on Syria and called for him to step down.
Even if Assad does go the way of Hosni Mubarak and other Arab autocrats, Syria will have a hard time rebuilding its country and ensuring that a healthy, democratic political system is in place. As we have seen in other countries that have toppled hated dictators, the transition can be as difficult as the revolution. This is where traditional Syrian allies like Russia will have to forget their support for Assad and step up to the plate. Just because Russia doesn’t recognise that Assad’s days are numbered doesn’t mean that all of Syria should have to suffer the wrath of its unelected leader.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2012.
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