As of 16 November, Syria has been suspended from the Arab League. With a drawn-out crackdown on anti-government opposition taking place, it seems patience had simply worn thin in the Cairo based organisation. The gesture – and we would do well to see it as nothing more – comes as only the latest outburst of international hand-wringing against Bashar al-Assad’s crumbling regime.
Amidst this, however, is an underlying irony, almost laughable in nature, that an organisation like the Arab League would decry Assad’s behaviour. The malevolence of a state such as Syria’s is no laughing matter, but it would be a prodigious feat to ignore the comedic character of liberty’s latest defenders. Fairly accurately described by The Telegraph as “largely a dysfunctional tyrants’ club,” the League includes such paragons of good governance as Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Respectively, these states deny women even the legal ability to drive a car, or find themselves increasingly under the thrall of violent, xenophobic thugs – otherwise known as Hezbollah.
Syria’s terrorist affiliations are eclipsed only by those of its sponsor, Iran.
Nor are other member states exactly embracing cultures of individuality and freedom. Earlier this year, for instance, the Kuwaiti political figure Salwa al-Mutairi called for the reinstitution of sex-slavery. In fairness, the League also includes Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, all recently liberated by the Arab Spring. Of these, however, effectively only Tunisia has a democratically-appointed government – which at any rate is pursuing suspect, Islamist policies. In short, current events haven’t led to an identity crisis in the League. It remains essentially as it always was: a forum for police states to don the trappings of respectability.
Imagine, then, just how confused al-Assad must feel.
Nevertheless, to borrow the phrase, we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The despots of the Middle East wanted to shore up their own positions; so they threw out one of their own to hang. Indeed, credit where credit is due, they made an excellent choice in victim. Syria’s terrorist affiliations are eclipsed only by those of its sponsor, Iran. The Iranian government, in turn, has long used Syria as a way of spreading its malign influence. Should Assad fall, then Tehran will at least have to wait some time before having so useful a client again. In many ways, Syria was the country NATO should have intervened in first.
…a direct threat to our safety and regional stability.
That said, while there is obvious cause for hope that the Syrian state buckles and collapses, whether that comes to pass is another issue. Colonel Gadaffi deliberately kept his army weak as a means of offsetting potential usurpers. Thus, it was found wanting when he needed it most. By contrast, the Syrian Army has enjoyed a degree of modernisation, while both the state’s leadership and the vast majority of its professional troops are unified via the Alawite sect of Islam. Even with the brave resistance of some breakaway units, then, the opposition is likely looking at a tougher fight than its Libyan counterpart.
This again begs the question of what one can expect of coming events. In all likelihood, the outcome depends on outside action. In turn, the key to that question depends on whether talk of a vaunted Turkish incursion proves well-founded, or whether China and Russia drop their obstinacy over another NATO mission. Unlike Libya, the case for such a mission is clear from the start. Syria’s government has for too long supported doctrines of Islamic terrorism, or else aided those willing to carry it out – a direct threat to our safety and regional stability. Now, with evidence mounting daily of how galling a system presides there, the case for intervention has never been stronger.