There is lots of skepticism about the viability and possible unintended consequences of the Arab League’s first proposal for ending the Syrian violence that threatens to overturn the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. A prominent and authoritative blogger on Syria and director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies, Joshua Landis, wrote after news that Assad was interested in the Arab League proposal, that Syria’s president would be smart to accept the proposal because it would force the opposition to take a stand.
Assad will be able to shift blame for the lack of compromise toward the opposition. The international community must play along because both NATO and the U.S. have stated that they will not intervene in Syria militarily. Even if Assad is using the Arab League mediation effort to win time for his effort to suppress the opposition, the Arab League will take a more forward role. If dialogue fails, as everyone seems to expect, the Arab League will have to take concrete steps to isolate and condemn Syria.
The Landis blog alludes to Chinese and Russian condemnation of the Assad regime in the United Nations and increased sanctions from Turkey to the north, and possible military intervention. The Washington Post pointed out that the day after Assad consented to the plan, the violence continued and that civil war looms in Syria as hundreds of low-level Sunni soldiers have defected from a minority Alawite (a Shia sect)-led army. This, as the paper point out, could pose a growing challenge to Assad and could result in a stronger Western role in events. Turkey, which shelters some of the Syrian dissidents, was cited as a pivotal player in coming events.
Syria expert Amr al-Azm writes that the top concern for Assad “has always been the emergence of a Benghazi scenario in which military defectors are able to gain a foothold” – a foothold from which a rebellion, bolstered by Turkish military intervention, could be supported.
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.