Some members of Syria’s opposition movement give their president less than a month before he falls. No doubt, the image of an encaged Mubarak standing trial from his mobile bed in an Egyptian court has had its effect. Yet during the five months since the protests began in Syria, the international community has been tepid at denouncing the Assad regime’s crackdown on its people.
As many predicted, the protests in Syria have multiplied since the beginning of Ramadan on 1 August, while the Syrian government has retaliated with round-ups, killings and tanks. Electricity and water in rebellious cities have also been cut off for prolonged periods of time.
Last week however witnessed an increase in diplomatic efforts. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked Bashar al Assad to stop “the killing machine” before it is too late, and recalled his ambassador. The Kuwaitis and Bahrainis followed suit. The Arab League also came out to condemn the situation, along with Al Azhar, the highest religious authority for Sunni Muslims.
Let down by the Sunni Arab states (who, because of his ties with Iran, were never that keen on Assad), Syria has also alienated its Turkish friends. Turkey’s foreign minister paid a visit to Assad in Damascus on Tuesday but was met with miscomprehension. Assad told foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu that he would “not waver in our pursuit of terrorist groups”. Succeeding the Turkish, a Brazilian, Indian and South African delegation has flown in, with the hope of convincing Assad otherwise.
So what next? Analysts believe the problem seems to be the absence of an organised opposition party or a credible opposition figurehead after 41 years of Baathist rule. Elias Muhanna, the author of the political blog “Qifa Nabki” recently compared it to a “black box”. This is perhaps why the announcement of multi-party parliamentary elections before the end of the year has not been taken very seriously.
It might also explain why the international community has been unwilling to write Assad off. The UN Security Council failed to agree on a resolution condemning the killings and opted instead for a less resolute UN presidential statement.
The Syrian regime, which is familiar with political isolation and sanctions, knows a foreign military intervention is unlikely. But what might tip the balance – in what has become a battle of life and death for the regime – is the mounting economic pressure. The state is low on cash, the economy is at a standstill and the flight of capital outside the country has started. In such an environment, Syria’s business class might soon lose patience and decide it’s time to change camps.