Blood takes the spring out of Syria’s revolution

We first watched unrest on the streets of Syria in March, five months ago. By that time Egypt and Tunisia had toppled their dictators – and the whole Arab world seemed to be ablaze with possibility. As observers in the West, we naively expected Libya and Syria to go the same way, prehaps so did the Libyans and Syrians themselves. But it was not to be.

As NATO took the rather drastic, albeit necessary, step of intervening in Libya it also condemned the Syrian revolutionaries to a fight without support. And as NATO planes pummelled Col Gaddafi, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad took to shelling his own cities and arresting everyone he could get his hands on. So far, these are the official figures:
  • 1600 dead (although human rights groups would debate this – some putting the figure at over 2000)
  • 10000 people are thought to have fled to Turkey, where refugee camps have been established near the Syrian border.
  • Another 10000 are said to have been inprisoned for political reasons

In most situations, fear is the strongest of human emotions. But Syria’s brave protesters seem not to have noticed. They may cower in their homes from Saturday to Thursday, as tanks shell their cities and the regime’s snipers pick people off. Yet every Friday the protests erupt again. And the savagery increases.

All this has slowed the fall of Mr al-Assad, but it has not halted it. The more barbarian he is, the more international condemnation tightens its grip. The more brutal, the more anger is displayed every Friday. The more inhumane, the more certain I am that he will go. Why? Because his people face more danger in letting him stay than in fighting to the bitter end. Having seen such opposition al-Assad, if he retook control, would probably decimate his country. The Syrians know this. Arab leaders know this. The West knows too. And none of them is too keen on the prospect. Assad is a failed leader – now we just need to get rid of him.

That’s the hard bit, and a point on which I offer no wise words. It is impossible to promote bigger and bigger protests when I know what the concequences for the protesters would be. It is impossible to suggest military interventions – even if NATO was not so ridiculously over-stretched intervention is a dodgy path to take. The only thing we can do, it seems, is hope that the entire regime is struck by some awful unspecified illness. Well, have you got any better ideas? The protests will carry on and economic or diplomatic sanctions may bite sooner or later. It is impossible to say how Assad will go. But go he will.

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