The Arabs Gang Up Against Syria: Stop the Killing Or Foreigners May Intervene
The Arab League tightened the screws on beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday, imposing economic sanctions on Damascus just weeks after suspending its membership in the 22-state body. The questions now are: what more can the League do and how — and against whom — might the Damascus regime retaliate?
Indeed, the unprecedented move against a fellow Arab state came with a sharp warning to Syria: Deal with us or pave the way for non-Arab intervention. “If we, as Arabs fail, do you think that the international conscience will remain silent on this issue for ever? I don’t think so,” Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a press conference in Cairo on Sunday. Syria says “leave us alone, you’re interfering, but they’re not telling us how they want to solve this,” he added. “All this work we’re doing is to avoid interference, but I cannot guarantee that there will be none.”
(See pictures of Syria’s ongoing protests.)
At the press conference in Cairo, the Qatari foreign minister seemed exasperated by Syria’s defiance. He described himself as almost a resident of Egypt having spent so much time there negotiating among the various representatives of the Arab states. Thani was plaintive. “We don’t want to harm or not harm [the regime]. We want the Syrian brothers, the Syrian regime to understand that there is an Arab decision, in line with the Syrian people, to find a solution to this problem, to stop the killing, to stop the blood.” He then appealed to the Syrian leader’s conscience. “If you kill one innocent it is as if you have killed all of humanity,” Thani said, quoting a verse from the Quran. “Authority means nothing if you must kill your people to keep it.”
The new sanctions, which are as potent in substance as they are symbolically, reportedly include a travel ban on key Syrian officials, a halt to commercial flights into the country, a freeze on government assets, and an end to dealings with Syria’s central bank as well as investments in the country. Their aim, according to Hamad and Arab League secretary general Nabil Araby, is to hurt the regime yet spare the people. Basic commodities and remittances, for example, are exempt from the list. But commercial exchanges are not exempt from the sting of the sanctions. The unstated aim, may be to force a break between the business elite in Syria’s two largest cities of Damascus and Aleppo and the regime. The idea is that if the merchant class starts to think the regime is hurting its interests and will continue to be bad for business, the businesspeople will ditch Assad.