It is now close to two months since the first protests broke out in the city of Daraa in Syria.
A rapid unravelling of the situation following the government’s violent crackdown on protesters has invariably placed President Bashar Al Assad facing the biggest challenge to his regime. Grappling to regain control, the government has chosen force to quell the trouble but to no avail. As a result despite the large number of deaths and arrests, the protests are continuing with the opposition having put the call out for a countrywide general strike.
The situation does warrant more than the cursory warnings issued to Damascus or the sanctions imposed recently on some of President Al Assad’s close allies in government. This is probably why US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the EU Special Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton in a recent meeting called on the Syrian government to implement the promised reforms on an immediate basis or face the consequences. What these may be has not been spelled out but it will clearly be more sanctions. Whether the threat of sanctions at this point contain enough bite to soften the government’s position is the question. The regime is currently fighting an existential threat and is likely to focus attention on putting an end to the unrest.
Another remedial measure being considered is the UN Resolution condemning Syria. Expected to be put up for vote in front of the Security Council, the Resolution — if it obtains majority vote —will serve a reminder to Syria of its isolated position. The rising crescendo of the Syrian government’s atrocities, including conflicting reports of a mass grave in Daraa, have only strengthened the impression of brutality by a repressive regime. Unfortunately, if the government had shown political maturity and not used force at the start of the protests, things might not have deteriorated to this extent.
The government continues to blame the Islamists and foreign elements for supporting the anti-regime movement. Earlier conciliatory moves by Al Assad to lift the decades old emergency among other socio-economic measures aimed at appeasing the people are now felt to have been misread as a sign of weakness. As a result the authorities decided on a U-turn in policy by sending in tanks and security forces to curb the protests.
Irrespective of what went wrong where, Al Assad should not lose the chance he may still have and formulate a strategy where political dialogue is launched with the estranged factions. A resort to strong arm tactics is not the way to rule people whose hearts need to be won by fulfilling their just rights and aspirations.