Syria protests at night with flag 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Echoes of Tehran, 1979, that reverberated from Damascus following the attack on
the United States Embassy in the Syrian capital earlier this month dissipated so
quickly that, in retrospect, this grave incident stands as just another outrage
perpetrated by President Bashar Assad. His regime endured minor international
criticism, but within days resumed its bestial campaign of repression and
violence against the Syrian people.
But Syrians have shown no signs of
cowering. Indeed, hundreds of thousands took to the streets on Friday to
call for an end to Assad’s rule. This weekly outpouring of anger following
Friday prayers has grown in size and fervor.
The protesters deserve wider
and more vocal international support.
Of course, the protesters who
stormed the American, French and Qatari embassies were different. While these
Syrians did not attempt to take over the US Embassy, like Iranians did 32 years
ago, Assad’s escalating provocations – which now include targeting the US –
constitute the kind of security threat that should inspire a more assertive
response by concerned nations.
True, the UN Security Council issued a
statement condemning Syria “in the strongest possible terms” a few days after
the July 11 attacks on the American and French embassies. Most governments, even
Syrian allies China and Russia, want to protect their diplomatic properties, so
a mild admonition was not too difficult to achieve.
coordinated international action is wanting.
The Arab League, whose new
secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, visited Assad without criticizing his regime’s
behavior, has been mute. Russia has taken a lead (joined by Brazil, China,
India, Lebanon and South Africa) in blocking any UN discussion, even though both
the UN Human Rights Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency asked the
Security Council to adopt resolutions on Syria’s human rights violations and
covert nuclear program.
Limited sanctions imposed by the EU and the US
are considered by the Assad regime and its supporters as interference in Syria’s
internal affairs. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem even called recent EU
sanctions “an act of war.” Obviously, Muallem has it reversed. The regime he
serves has declared war on innocent Syrians, claiming more than 1,600 lives so
far and detaining thousands more. Assad has also risked cross-border
confrontations by sending forces into Syrian towns bordering Iraq, Jordan,
Lebanon and Turkey, causing Syrians to flee for their lives. And he encouraged
Palestinians once, with tragic results, to cross the border with
GLOBAL APATHY regarding Syria contrasts with the multilateral
approach on Libya, which got UN Security Council and Arab League endorsement.
The international community was concerned for Libyans threatened with certain
death by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Assad may threaten his people less
publicly, but he is equally determined to crush all opposition. As The Economist
recently observed: “If both the Qaddafi and Assad families fell, the Arab spring
would turn to summer.”
The assault on the American Embassy ostensibly was
perverted retaliation for Ambassador Robert Ford’s visit to the besieged city of
Hama. Curious that neither he nor the French envoy (who also visited Hama) did
not journey to Deraa, or Latakia, or Jisr al-Shughour.
diplomats feared that Hama was a prime candidate for a reprise of the evil that
Assad’s father, Hafez, visited on Syria’s fourth-largest city 29 years ago, when
more than 10,000 were slaughtered. Hama may have been spared for now, but the
assault on Homs is continuing, following the pattern of other cities besieged by
Now, in another verbal salvo, Muallem has warned the US
and other diplomats not even to think of traveling outside Damascus. Qatar has
already shut its embassy after the regime unleashed protesters against Al
Maybe the US should do the same, or at least recall Ford. His
arrival in January was clearly premature – a presidential recess appointment to
avoid congressional opposition to filling the post left vacant since the 2005
assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
those concerned about human rights and the future of Syria, it is clearer now
that stronger international actions are needed. Saying, as Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton did, that the Assad regime has lost its legitimacy is not
enough; the regime lost its legitimacy months ago.
The status quo in
Syria is untenable, and deserves at least as much urgent attention as is devoted
to other trouble spots in the region.
The courageous protesters in Syria
and their supporters, including Syrian activists outside the country, need to
hear more direct encouragement. President Barack Obama should state clearly that
it’s time for Assad to leave, while using every diplomatic tool to convince Arab
allies and other concerned nations not to abandon the Syrian people.The
writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.