The Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria from its meetings is a measure of the region’s growing distress with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his regime’s brutal crackdown on his own people.
The UN estimates that Syria’s crackdown on protestors has resulted in more than 3,500 deaths since the first protests began in March and the Arab League’s action shows that its neighbouring Arab states are running out of patience with Syria’s leader. The Arab League’s stance has been welcomed by a number of Western powers, including the US and UK, and puts increasing pressure on Assad’s regime.
Syria is a different proposition to the other Arab states that have witnessed the Arab spring this year. Despite the high number of deaths, Assad still retains a high degree of support due to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious makeup of Syria. Minority groups are worried if Assad is deposed then their rights will be under threat.
The storming of the Qatari and Saudi embassies in Damascus show that Assad’s supporters are remaining loyal to their leader, and the Arab League action is not likely to change much in the short term.
However, the strong stance taken by the Arab League, and increasingly disapproving rhetoric from Riyadh on Syria’s actions, will give fresh optimism to Syria’s opposition groups. Although the Arab League’s action is unlikely to have a major effect on the ground in Syria, it is another sign that Assad’s iron grip on power may finally be weakening.