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Arab League Turns on Assad

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
November 27, 2011
National Review


The Arab League's actions earlier this year against Libya were not necessarily best understood as the product of a revolution in the region or in that organization, for Qaddafi was a unique figure. He was widely loathed and mocked by Arab leaders, who were glad to be rid of him.

But Syria is different, having been at the heart of the Arab world for centuries and playing in recent decades a key role in inter-Arab rivalries and in the never-ending Arab struggle against Israel. For Arab leaders to dump the Syrian regime is something far more significant.

That is what they did on Sunday, voting (with only Iraq and Lebanon taking exception) for a travel ban on Syrian officials, a freeze on Syrian official assets in Arab capitals, and an end to transactions with Syria's central bank. What's more, they asked the U.N. Security Council to adopt similar sanctions and make then both global and mandatory. This is a huge political, financial, and psychological blow to the Assad regime, whose only ally today is Iran. No doubt this played some role in the Arab League's vote: They want to reduce Persian, Shia influences in "their" region. And they do not want to be blamed for the astonishing bloodbath in Syria, where over 4,000 have now been killed by the regime in apparently endless attacks on Syrian cities. In countries where open debate is now possible, including Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, politicians may think it wise to denounce and punish the Assad regime, which reminds voters of the local despots they just overthrew. Finally, the smart money is now betting against Assad, with the demonstrations continuing and a "Free Syrian Army" of mostly Sunni defectors growing into a serious problem for the Syrian regime. So people want to be on the winning side.

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