Up until the attack on Hama the day before the holy month of Ramadan condemnation against the Syrian regime had been limited to the ‘usual suspects’ – USA, EU and Turkey. But with Hama the UNSC deadlock suddenly unlocked with Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and even Lebanon supporting a harshly worded Presidental Statement. Following that Russia issued a stern warning to the regime in Damascus through President Medvedev: “Unfortunately, people die there in large numbers. This arouses enormous concern from us,” Syria’s President Assad needs to “carry out urgent reforms, come to terms with the opposition, restore peace and create a modern state. If he cannot do this, a sad fate awaits him, and in the end we will have to take some decision. We are watching the way the situation develops. As it changes, some of our perspectives also change.”
Things suddenly looked bleaker for Bashar al-Assad. But more was to come…
The condemnations against the Syrian swelled during the last days. It is highly likely that it is the combination of the intensity and scale of the attack on Hama and Deir ez-Zor, Syria’s second and fourth largest cities respectively, and that the attempts to crush the uprising takes place during the holy month of Ramadan is the reason for the harsh reaction we now see from especially Saudi Arabia, the Arab League and the GCC.
The Turkish President Abdullah Gül did not mince his words: “The use of heavy weapons against people in Hama when Ramadan began shocked me. It is not possible for us to remain indifferent to this violence.” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also voiced his concerns early on at the attack on Hama and the fact that it was taking place as the holy month of Ramadan began: “We were greatly disappointed over yesterday’s operations, especially the operations conducted in Hama. Both the timing and the way Syria conducted the operations were enormously wrong. We severely condemn these operations,”. This was followed yesterday by PM Erdogans clear message to Syria: “We have been very patient until now, waiting to see whether we can fix this; whether they will listen to what we have been saying. But our patience is running out now. He [FM Ahmet Davutoğlu] will talk with the government and convey our message in a determined manner. The ensuing process will be shaped by the response we get. We cannot remain a bystander to what happens in Syria. We are hearing voices from Syria and we must respond by doing whatever we are required to do”.
According to Swedish FM Bildt, who enjoys an excellent relationship with his Turkish counterpart, Davutoğlu will pay his visit to Syria on Tuesday to deliver a “…last warning” to the Syrian regime.
The fallout from meeting(s) in Damascus, which we can expect to be tense, will very interesting to watch. Sparks will fly. That possibility that Bashar al-Assad would suddely cave in to the demand of Turkey is nil. The questions is what Turkey will do when its patience and option to influence the Syrian regime has run out?
The Vatican is usually a political player that has tried, with mixed success, to avoid sticking its head into hornets nest’s where it does not belong. It is almost certain that the Vatican has coordinated the ‘Angelus’ by the Pope with Saudi Arabia to avoid the perception that they, the Vatican, is pushing a Western Christian agenda in Syria. Although the Christian faith is splintered in the Middle East and the papacy is viewed as arrogant by the other Churches, especially one issues such as papal infalliability of the xx of the Virgin Mary, the Pope’s voice do carry a lot of weight. It would be surprising if other Churches in the Middle East will not follow in the wake of Benedictus call for reconciliaction and peaceful co-existence: “I am very worried about the serious and ever increasing acts of violence in Syria which have caused many victims and grave suffering. I call on the Catholic faithful to pray that the efforts towards reconciliation will prevail over divisiveness and bitterness. Furthermore, I renew my pressing appeal to the Syrian authorities and population for re-establishment of a peaceful co-existence, as soon as possible, so there can be an adequate response to the citizens’ legitimate aspirations, in terms of their dignity, and the advantages that can be gained through regional stability.”
As the Christians in Syria is seen, rightly or not, as supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad this statement and any that follows from other Churches will have a profound effect on the support of this segment of the Syrian population.
When the GCC – the Gulf Cooperation Council – yesterday condemned the Syrian regime it was the start of the snowball of critique that continued with the Arab League and Saudi Arabia. The GCC demanded the “immediate end to violence … and bloodshed…a resort to wisdom and serious and necessary reforms that would protect the rights and dignity of the people, and meet their aspirations”. The GCC expressed concern over the “mounting violence and the excessive use of force which resulted in killing and wounding large numbers”.
Strong words. But this statement is tainted by the crackdown in Bahrain where Saudi Arabia assisted in crushing the protest movement; an easy target for the Syrian regime to retort of ignore.
Except for the occasional murmur from then Secretary-General Amr Moussa the Arab League has been quiet in Syria. That is until yesterday. The Arab League demanded that “…the Syrian authorities to bring an end immediately to acts of violence and campaigns by the security forces against civilians”. The Arab League also expressed “increasing concern of the deterioration of the security situation in Syria following the rise in violence and military operations in Hama, Deir Al Zor and several regions.”
The question is now if the Arab League will follow up this statement? The question is if they have the guts to suspend Syria as they did with Libya?
And finally – this morning Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to condemn the Syria regime. In a written statement this is what King Abdullah has to say: “What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia. Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms. Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.”
Following the statement Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Syria.
This statement and the recalling of the ambassador (for consultation) should in no way be underestimated. This will likely be the first of a number of Arab states that will act in a similar manner in the coming days, probably beginning with the other GCC-states.
The Syrian regime is find itself increasingly isolated as the Turkish FM is set to visit Syria for a showdown with President Bashar al-Assad, FM Walid Moallim and Bouthina Shabaan.