The regime in Damascus has fallen into a trap of its own making: it has taken the relative silence of the international community and the media's lack of prominence given to the Syrian issue as tacit approval for its military campaign to suppress popular dissent.
President Bashar al-Assad has received several messages over the past few weeks, and they have all gently prodded him in the direction of reform and excluded his person from any criticism. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called him a “reformer”, which he's not. Turkey lent him its support, France announced that the situation in Syria is incomparable to the one in Libya while Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim announced his country's opposition to sanctions against Syria. Most recently Bahrain's Foreign Minister arrived in Damascus with a message of support for Syria's stability, security and reform under the leadership of President Assad. That message is quite significant for 2 reasons: it can be considered a message of support for Assad from the GCC as a whole and not just Bahrain, and it comes from a country that is at loggerheads with Syria's most important backer and ally, Iran. Thus the message contains a message in itself.
Among the sanctions proposed by the Europeans none include the president's person while one is an arms embargo. Ouch! That's bound to hurt Damascus whose only source of weaponry is Russia! The message is clear: we are giving you a grace period to save your skin and your regime.
Unfortunately, President Bashar al-Assad is unable to fulfill the promise. The regime has so far killed an estimated 800 Syrians and arrested 7000. It is obvious that after a 10-day siege and subjugation of Deraa that the regime's strategy is to identify the trouble-spots and subjugate them by force. It is collective punishment at its worst. Analysts have described the use of tanks and armored fighting vehicles against Syrian civilians as “shock and awe”. Actually there's another term for it: terrorism. It is a strategy intended to terrorize the civilian population and prevent it from protesting. As does the treatment meted out to those who are arrested, as described in this report by the Independent:
Soon, an enormous man in a white T-shirt and pyjama bottoms emerged from behind the curtain. He seized a young teenager and took him behind the barrier. "He was there for around three minutes," said Mohammad. "All I could hear was his screams. When he was brought back out his head was covered in blood. They had tried to slice half of his face off."
The person most widely accused of heading the repression is Maher al-Assad, the President's brother. It should be hardly surprising that he would resort to such brutality against the Syrian people considering that, as a result of a family dispute, he shot his brother-in-law in the middle of the presidential palace in 2000.
Unfortunately for Syria, Bashar al-Assad has sown the seeds of sectarian strife into this internal upheaval that was and remains largely peaceful and non-denominational. It is something an increasingly exasperated Turkey recognizes and fears.
The regime's tactics are bound to fail, even with the mounting allegations of Iranian advice and support for the Assads.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian armed forces, President Assad on Friday, May 6, marked Martyrs Day while his troops were busy cracking down on protesters. Strangely, after the one demonstration in support of the regime following his disastrous speech in parliament, there have been no further such rallies.
The regime is emboldened by the international complicity in the flagrant violation of human rights.
That Syria's mostly-Sunni middle class has not joined the protest en masse is no cause for celebration because a wedge is being driven, firmly, slowly and surely between the sects of the country.
The regional and international powers are ignoring one important factor: the dynamics of a popular rebellion have a momentum of their own. Some respected Syria experts believe Bashar al-Assad still has a slim chance of rescuing the situation, but even they think that it's quickly slipping away.
Politicians are advised to head to their nearest mall and seek out the kids amusement area. There they will inevitably find a Whac-a-Mole gaming machine, and no matter how many times and how hard you whack the moles, they always pop back up. The world's leaders are well-advised to urgently confiscate the mallets and stock up on tents, fire blankets and extinguishers.
The oft-repeated logic is that by propping up the regime in Damascus and helping it regain the upper hand, at whatever cost, the world is avoiding a firestorm. But rather than dampening the flickers of freedom the powers-that-be are assisting the rise of a much bloodier and violent conflict.
Now what was that about giving someone some rope to hang himself with...
A man on a long journey through a perpetual desert.
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