Syria’s instability defies estimates of how many still stand behind President Assad, but this was a weekend demonstration by his supporters. The powerful minority Alawis would be among them – with the top military and intelligence positions in their hands — Assad their chief — and key portions of Syria’s middle class. But their country’s suspension by the Arab League has increased their isolation.
Only twice previously has the League done anything like this; most recently with Libya in March this year, first with Egypt when it made peace with Israel in 1979.
Now Damascus, humiliated, says its ejection involves Western plotting. But the League wants to avoid another Libya-like scenario.
Its Secretary General, Nabil Elaraby, said clearly: “There is no demand for intervention whatsoever, or anything of the kind, regardless of what the Syrian government has said.”
Qatar’s Prime Minister, Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, who is also foreign minister, said: “No one is speaking about armed intervention, or a no-fly zone. No one in the Arab League is speaking about this. These rumours, unfortunately, confuse the issue.”
The League’s position changes the lay of the land for Syria. There is strong symbolic support being offered to the Syrian opposition, whose demands are being heard.
Former ally of the Syrian regime Turkey has also distanced itself from Assad’s actions, and has been listening to the opposition, after recalling its diplomatic personnel and their families from Damascus.
Damascus has even lost support from its once faithful friend Algeria.
The Syrian opposition dares to hope the Arab League’s move is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Chief coordinator of the “Building the Syrian State Movement” Louay Hussein said: “The decision has made the Syrian issue international, opening a door for the international communities and the UN Security Council to get involved in Syrian affairs.”
But in spite of the violence which the United Nations estimates to have claimed at least 3,500 lives in Syria, and a chorus of condemnation for Assad, another NATO-led campaign in an Arab country appears unlikely.
In addition, Syria still has Russia’s support, as its main regional ally. Pressure on Damascus has increased but few are willing to predict if significant further steps will be taken to calm the internal conflict.