The Arab League suspended Syria on Saturday, pledging new sanctions against the
Bashar Assad regime for its bloody eight-month crackdown on protesters and
urging member states to withdraw ambassadors from Damascus.
bloc’s suspension – just the third since it was founded in 1945 – underlined the
Assad government’s deepening international isolation over a brutal
counterinsurgency campaign estimated to have killed more than 3,500
“We were criticized for taking a long time, but this was out of
our concern for Syria,” Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani
told reporters at League headquarters in Cairo. “We needed to have a majority to
approve those decisions.
“We are calling all Syrian opposition parties to
a meeting at the Arab League headquarters to agree to a unified vision for the
transitional period,” said Sheikh Hamad, who is also foreign minister of Qatar,
which holds the organization’s rotating chairmanship.
Earlier this month
the Arab League drafted a plan to stem the violence. That program called for
Syrian forces to withdraw from major cities, as well as the release of political
prisoners and official dialogue with opposition groups. Damascus accepted the
proposal, but took no visible steps to implement it.
Since the plan’s
announcement, more than 100 people have been killed in the protest hotbed of
Homs alone, according to a Human Rights Watch report issued on
Activists said at least six people were killed nationwide on
Walid Phares – a Mideast affairs adviser to US Republican
presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and author of the recent book The Coming
Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East – said the League decision
reflects the “internationalization” of the Syria crisis.
counter-escalation to respond to this move. One concern here is that Syria,
Hezbollah and Iran may trigger a regional, or a series, of clashes in multiple
places to deter the Arab League leadership” from following through, Phares told
The Jerusalem Post in an email.
Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad said the League may
ask the United Nations to step in to help protect the rights of
“If the violence and killing doesn’t stop, the secretary-general
will call on international organizations dealing with human rights, including
the United Nations,” he said.
Syria’s Arab League representative struck
back that the decision was “not worth the ink it was written with.”
was clear that “orders were issued to them from the United States and Europe to
hasten a decision against Syria,” Youssef Ahmed told Syrian state
Saturday’s move was surprising given that the Arab League
rarely condemns the actions of member states.
In 1979, the bloc suspended
Egypt for 10 years after Cairo signed a peace deal with Israel, and in February
of this year it suspended Libya as the death toll mounted in the popular revolt
against Muammar Gaddafi. Libya’s suspension from the 22-member League paved the
way for the UN Security Council to support NATO intervention in the country.
On Saturday, Syrian TV reported a
demonstration outside the Qatari Embassy in Damascus, while Assad’s opponents
hailed the League’s new resolve.
“This gives a lot of strength to the
position of the Syrian National Council. This is now an Arab position,” said
Basma Qadmani, a member of the executive committee of the Syrian National
Council, the most prominent opposition group.
The League was split
between states such as Saudi Arabia and others that are hostile to Syria’s ally
Iran, and countries such as Yemen, struggling to quell widespread unrest, and
Lebanon, where Syria’s influence looms large.
Yemen and Lebanon opposed
the suspension and Iraq abstained in the vote, Hamad said. Political and
economic sanctions would begin on Wednesday, he said, without elaborating on the
sanctions’ exact nature.
Sources familiar with the League’s deliberations
said countries like Somalia and Mauritania had taken a cue from Sudan and backed
the tougher stance on Syria, while Algeria was persuaded to switch camps under
pressure from France.
“Algeria took the same position, which was
challenging for the Arab League to achieve because of the uprising Algeria had
earlier in the year and its location close to Tunisia, Libya and Egypt,” a
source at the League said.
US President Barack Obama welcomed the
decision, saying the suspension had further isolated Assad.
significant steps expose the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that
has systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful protests,” Obama
said in a statement from Honolulu, where he is hosting an Asia-Pacific
“We will continue to work with our friends and allies to pressure
the Assad regime and support the Syrian people as they pursue the dignity and
transition to democracy that they deserve.”
“The United States commends
the principled stand taken by the Arab League and supports full implementation
of its efforts to bring a peaceful end to the crisis,” the office of Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton quoted her as saying in a statement.
failure of the Assad regime, once again, to heed the call of regional states and
the international community, underscores the fact that it has lost all
credibility. As today’s Arab League decision demonstrates, the international
pressure will continue to build until the brutal Assad regime heeds the calls of
its own people and the world community,” Clinton said.
Minister Alain Juppé said it was time for international bodies to take more
action. “France appeals to the international community to hear the message sent
by the Arab states, to take its responsibilities and to thus act without further
delay,” he said in a statement.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle
said the decision sent an important signal to those in the Security Council who
had up to now prevented a clear resolution on Syria.
Andrew Tabler, a
fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the new
book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria,
advised the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week to take a
multi-pronged approach in confronting Damascus.
Tabler identified seven
key steps in applying pressure on the Assad regime: Form a contact group with
regional allies and Syrian opposition leaders, help opposition leaders draft a
coherent working strategy, work to persuade remaining Assad supporters to defect
and push for more human-rights monitoring of the government.
urged lawmakers to prepare for militarization of the conflict, and to explore
“the possibility of the creation of ‘nofly,’ ‘no-go’ or ‘buffer zones,’” and
Security Council action.
“Security Council resolutions will serve as the
basis for maximizing multilateral pressure, especially comprehensive sanctions
and possible future use of force,” he said.
Farid Ghadry, president of
the US-based Reform Party of Syria, called in his blog on Friday for robust
international engagement in helping bring down Assad.
“In politics, as in
life, one either is more apt at making friends or at making foes. In the Middle
East, no Arab regime has as many enemies as the Assad regime,” Ghadry
“Consider only a partial history of its actions against Syrians,
Lebanese, Iraqis, Turks, Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians and Americans, and
you will get a sense of how easy it is to demolish this anomaly of terror,” he
wrote. “Everyone wants this cancerous existence terminated.”
contributed to this report.