Monday, January 9, 2012

Syria's protesters are on their own

While Arab League monitors have failed to stop the bloodshed, this may be preferable to protracted talks about political 'reform'

Brian Whitaker, Monday 9 January 2012

"...It's difficult to see where the league can go from there, except by admitting failure and passing its files to the United Nations...

Despite all that, the failure of the Arab League's initiative may be preferable to its success. Had there been more progress, the result would have been protracted talks about political "reform".

The fact is that the Syrian regime cannot reform – at least, not to the extent that would be required – without destroying its own support base. Negotiating with the regime at this late stage would not lead to a workable solution. It would simply create a diversion and throw President Assad a temporary lifeline.

That, more or less, is what has already happened in Yemen where the Gulf Cooperation Council's "transition" plan has stymied a revolution. Though the "transition" may result in President Saleh leaving office and being confined to the sidelines, its overall effect is to prevent radical change by preserving the status quo.

Considering that the Yemen plan was orchestrated by one of the world's most autocratic and conservative countries, Saudi Arabia, nobody should be surprised by the results. Nor should anyone expect that the Arab League – still, in essence, a dictators' club noted for an inability to get its act together – can do any better in bringing change to Syria.....

The reality, harsh as it may be, is that there is very little that outsiders can usefully do to help the Syrian uprising beyond isolating the Assad regime as much as possible. This does not mean the revolution is doomed but it does mean the protesters will have to depend mainly on their own resources. In the long run, that could be beneficial if it eventually produces a government that is self-reliant and relatively independent of foreign influences.

The cost in human lives is certainly high, and it could get worse. But beneath the surface, the picture is shifting gradually but surely in the protesters' direction. The regime is in deepening financial trouble and its authority is crumbling. As Syria watcher Joshua Landis noted on his blog:

"What we are witnessing … is not the clash of two titanic and centralised bodies: the state and the opposition. Instead, we are seeing the steady erosion of state authority and national institutions, as the opposition, which remains largely organised on a local basis, undermines central authority at many points."

The question is no longer whether the regime will fall, but when."

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