Arab League hits Damascus hard

Arab League hits Damascus hard

Turkish-Syrian ties are deteriorating further, and fast. Attacks against the Turkish Embassy in Damascus and Turkish consulates around the country have forced Ankara to recall the families of diplomats and to issue a travel warning to its citizens planning to go to Syria.

The Arab League decision to give Bashar al-Assad and the Baath regime a final warning to stop attacks against civilians and negotiate with the opposition or be suspended from the organization has clearly made blood boil over in Damascus. The Arab League has hardly been an effective international organization, but its decision on Syria does represent a serious blow to Assad and the Baath regime.

Syrian Baathists have, after all, always considered themselves as leaders of pan-Arab nationalism. To have so many Arab countries turn against them is therefore a serious blow to prestige. One can assume therefore that the attacks on the Turkish, Qatari, Saudi and French missions in Syria did not take place in a void.

Turkey and France are not Arab League members, of course. But they have turned into objects of hate for Baathists since they are considered to be among the prime movers against Syria, laying the ground for decisions such as the one taken by the Arab League.

This is why the apology by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem over the attacks against the foreign missions rings hollow. Anyone who has visited Syria knows one cannot even fly a bird without the permission of the “Muhabarat,” or secret police. Syria has provided ample examples in recent months of what happens to those who do so despite the authorities.

The bottom line, however, is that the Assad regime has succeeded in even alienating the majority of Arab countries now. It is clear that the prime concern of Arab League members has to do with the dangerous instability Syria is creating for the whole region. Otherwise it is not as if they themselves were democratic or fully respectful of human rights.

Whatever the reasons behind it may be, the Arab Leagues decision was welcomed by Turkey, which has wanted the political and economic pressure on Damascus to increase. On the other hand, while some argue that the League’s decision has brought the prospect of military intervention against Syria a step closer, such intervention is strongly opposed by Ankara.

Put another way, Turkey wants increased political pressure on Syria but no military action. The Arab League decision therefore is seen in Ankara as a development that will increase the political pressure which is in line with Turkey’s strategy. Meanwhile the League’s decision will probably force Russia and China to take a different position on Syria too.

These countries, like Turkey, remain vehemently against any military intervention, and have promised to work against it at the U.N. It is, however, more difficult for them to oppose sanctions against Syria now that the Arab world has turned against this country also. Clearly Moscow and Beijing have to consider their broader interests in the Middle East after a certain point.

It remains to be seen now how Assad and the Baath regime approach the crisis at home after having turned 18 Arab countries against Syria. What is certain at this state is that the decision supported by the majority of Arab countries has hurt Damascus badly. This is why Syria called for an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss the matter.

If this is an indication that political pressure is working, this would be very much in line with Turkey’s overall strategy against Assad.