Syria to snub international pressure for now

AFP , Wednesday 10 Aug 2011

Analysts argue that the Syrian regime will not respond to the recent international and Arab condemnation until there is a complete international isolation of Syria

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Damascus (Reuters)

Though its days are seen as numbered, Syria's regime is likely to press on with its ferocious crackdown on dissent, despite fellow Arab states and allies joining international condemnation, analysts say.

This was underlined when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, under growing pressure from abroad, stood his ground on Tuesday and said he would pursue a relentless war against the ‘terrorist groups’ he says are behind the unrest.

“We will not waver in our pursuit of terrorist groups,” Assad told visiting Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Rami Khouri, head of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, said, "the regime has been fiercely resistant to international pressure. The moves by the Saudis, the Gulf Cooperation Council or Turkey will almost certainly not have immediate impact."

But Khouri and other analysts stressed that pressure will build from within as Syria becomes more and more isolated on the international scene, and Assad will have no other option but to look for a way out.

"When they are completely isolated and there is nobody in the world other than the Iranians who are supporting them, they will have a real problem and they will have to find a political solution", Khouri told AFP, "but it may be too late".

In a major development this week, Sunni Muslim regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, which had remained silent about the five-month revolt, added its voice to a chorus of criticism against Assad's regime and recalled its ambassador from Damascus.

Kuwait and Bahrain followed suit while the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League condemned the violence that has, according to rights activists, left more than 2,050 people dead, including almost 400 members of the security forces.

Turkey, which shares a border with Syria and has a large Sunni population, and Russia have also expressed growing impatience with Assad's scorched earth policy.

"We hope that some measures will be taken in the coming days to end the bloodshed and open the way to a process for political reform," Davutoglu said upon returning home from a day-long trip to Syria on Tuesday.

"The developments that will take place in the coming days will be decisive with regard to the expectations of Turkey and the Syrian people," said Davutoglu, adding that Turkey would continue to follow these developments.

Peter Harling, a Damascus-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said "the regime has crossed a new threshold in terms of violence, making it increasingly difficult for anyone to remain complacent. The world is giving up on this regime."

The unrest wrenching Syria since mid-March poses the greatest threat yet to four decades of Assad family rule that saw power concentrated in the hands of the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The majority of Syria's population of 23 million is Sunni Muslim.

Assad has blamed the largely peaceful protests across the country on foreign agitators and offered to implement reforms while at the same time pushing forth with a military assault on protest hubs.

The international community, at first hesitant to interfere given Syria's strategic regional importance and fears of the country sliding into civil war, has gradually upped the pressure while still hoping for democratic reforms.

But Assad's chances of redressing the situation have all but faded as the death toll mounts and the rebellion continues, analysts say.

"The regime refers to a global conspiracy against it but in reality many countries across the world, even those that have been historically hostile to this regime, would have liked to see it do a better job at surviving," Harling said.

"The situation is ripe for a dramatic collapse now," he added, "but it's impossible to tell when that will occur and what will trigger the dynamics."

Paul Salem, head of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre, stated that while Assad's regime is likely to pursue its repressive campaign in the coming weeks, his supporters inside the country will eventually turn against him which will prove to be a tipping point.

"There are three critical groups: the Alawite community, the Armed Forces and Security Services and the commercial elites in Aleppo and Damascus," Salem told AFP, "but there is no way to guess which one will give way first.

"This is a system that is being challenged by its own people and the whole world," he added. "There is no way they can continue as they are. The regime will crumble, but how and when is hard to predict."

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