The Syrian crisis is gathering inexorably, and has the potential to do open-ended harm. Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, is evidently determined to do whatever is necessary to maintain his absolute rule. In the last few days at least 100 people have been shot dead in separate cities in Syria. Some of these were government soldiers or security men engaged in repression. The choices facing Bashar are narrowing. The more he raises the level of violence, the greater the likelihood that in the end he will meet the fate of Muammar Qaddafi. Should he go down, he can always try to take other countries with him.
This last possibility implies regional war with all sorts of unforeseen consequences. Fear of chaos, foreign intervention, and spreading sectarian civil warfare is at last gripping other Arab power-holders. Meeting in Cairo, the Arab League has voted to impose sanctions on Syria in the hope of quarantining it. Assets of high-level Syrians are to be frozen and their visits abroad banned. Videos of the occasion show a solemn conclave of elderly men, some in well-cut suits and others in Arab dress, but a show is all it is. The Arab League is comprised of the 22 Arab countries. Supposedly a bloc representing Arab interests, in fact fundamental national differences have invariably reduced the Arab League to the output of mere verbiage. So it is now with sanctions on Syria. Iraq and Lebanon are dominated politically by Syria, while Algeria might be next for an uprising and foreign intervention, so all three countries have abstained from voting for sanctions. Business as usual, then.
The horror in Syria and its fall-out reveal the dangers inherent in an order in which one-man rule and absolutism is so easily able to suppress all aspirations to democracy. All that’s uncertain is the number of deaths for which Bashar will be responsible.