Rhein on Energy and Climate

After having given a serious warning in mid-October to the Syrian regime and insisted on stopping violence against peaceful demonstrators the Arab League foreign ministers meeting in distant Morocco have decided to suspend Syrian membership as of November 16. On November 16, they gave Syria another three days respite in return for allowing an Arab delegation to immediately visit the country for on the spot analysis.

18 of the 22 Arab League countries have supported the suspension of membership, more than the two thirds majority required. A suspension of membership is the most severe punishment any organisation can impose on its members. It underscores the courage the Arab League has shown, but also its frustration with the Syrian regime for refusing to engage in dialogue and reforms.

Syria has further angered Arab governments by failing to prevent diplomatic missions from being attacked and damaged following the November 12th decision for suspension.

The Arab League’s recent moves against Syria go in parallel with Turkey also getting increasingly upset and the EU extending sanctions against additional individuals and introducing a resolution to the UN General Assembly condemning Syria for human rights violations and supporting Arab League efforts to establish a dialogue between the regime and the opposition.

The Arab League has also threatened to take sanctions. So has Turkey menacing to cut power supplies which might seriously hurt the Syrian economy. The EU embargo on oil imports has become effective by the beginning of November. And as the situation worsens more and more countries will recall their ambassadors.

Thus Syrian regime is finding itself more and more isolated from the international community. Only three major countries continue to back it: neighbouring Iran, Russia and China. For Iran Syria is a crucial ally in its opposition to the West and Israel. Russia does not want to lose its naval base and a client for arms contracts. China opposes any “intervention” by external powers in domestic affairs, especially if supported by the West. But because of its dependence on Arab oil its opposition is remains muted.

Eight months after the beginning of civil unrest in Syria the chances for the regime’s survival are shrinking rapidly, especially since desertions from the regular army have started joining the civilian opposition. But the final blow will only come when the the Syrian business class will deny Assad further support.

Syria will be an important test case for the international community’s ability to provoke reforms and even regime change by peaceful means. The chances of success appear much higher than in the case of North Korea, which has kept benefiting from China’s protection.

But regime change will take time. Hopefully, it will be achieved before the end of 2012!

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