By Arab News
Where’s Syria headed? Things appear to be worsening by the day with deepening fears in the region about the largest country in the Levant unraveling. Every day brings in more bad news, with the crackdown on anti-government protests claiming more and more lives. True to the pattern of recent upheavals across the Middle East, the greater force the regime in Damascus employs the more strident and deadlier the protests become. And it’s not just one or two major Syrian cities that have been affected and are challenging the authority of the government, the whole country is on fire.
The shocking killings of more than 120 members of Syrian security forces in the northern town of Jisr Al-Shughour in clashes with “armed gangs” is perhaps the most serious loss the regime has suffered in decades. Predictably, the government has vowed to hit back “firmly and with full force.”
But how many of its own people and for how long could any government kill? Already, more than 1,200 innocent lives — perhaps more — have been lost. That this should happen under President Bashar Assad, who has repeatedly promised reforms and change since he took over from his father more than a decade ago, is all the more unfortunate.
If recent history of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen is any guide, the use of force — the first and last resort of all totalitarian, insecure regimes — is not just ineffective in checking the tide of people’s anger and frustration, it often seems to fuel it. So what Syria needs is a free and transparent dialogue. Syria’s leaders will have to get down to the root of the current unrest and address it.
The government says it has already lifted the hated emergency laws, introduced new parliamentary laws and media freedom and granted general amnesty to all political prisoners and anti-government protesters. So why people are still out there on the streets protesting? Because none of these actions apparently have reflected in the situation on the ground.
The Syrian leadership will therefore have to take some extraordinary and genuinely sincere measures to reach out to its people and address their real concerns and grievances. Enough blood has been spilled. Killings should stop right away.
There are many in the region, especially Israel and its powerful patrons in the West, that seem to be relishing the woes of Syrian regime with an elated Netanyahu predicting the “imminent fall” of Assad. However, if Syria unravels its consequences will be felt across the region.
If nothing else, Damascus has been able to keep the Zionist expansionist ambitions in check and has stood by the Palestinians. Already, there is talk of another imminent Israeli war against Lebanon. The ruthless killing of 23 unarmed, peaceful Palestinian and Syrian protesters marking the 1967 War anniversary this week reminded everyone of the evil nature of the “only democracy” in the Middle East. So it’s in no one’s interest, except that of Israel, if Syria goes down. No one can help though if the regime in Damascus digs itself a hole with its excessive response to the legitimate and democratic aspirations of its people. Assad must find a more reasonable and peaceful way to resolve this explosive crisis. Syria is too important to fail.