Did Syria's ambassador to France just quit?
If she did, it could spell trouble for President Bashir al-Assad.
To be sure, Syria immediately denied that Ms. Chakkour resigned, and released an audio tape of its own that it claimed was Ms. Chakkour promising to sue France 24. An editor at France 24 told the Associated Press the network had reached Chakkour on a phone number they had used for her in the past.
Since protests erupted on March 18, at least 1,000 Syrian demonstrators, inspired by the examples of Egypt and Tunisia, have been killed by regime security forces. Last week, a 13-year-old boy was tortured to death in police custody. The Baathist state, led by Bashar al-Assad, has followed the failed Egyptian and Tunisian playbook of shutting down the Internet and cell phones.
If Chakkour did indeed resign, she is following an example of her own: That of the Libyan diplomats who abandoned Muammar Qaddafi in February, as his security forces started to shoot growing numbers of unarmed democracy protesters.
"I can no longer continue to support the cycle of extreme violence against unarmed civilians. I can no longer ignore all those young men, women, and children who have died," she told France 24 in a phone interview, speaking in English. "I recognize the legitimacy of the people's demands for more democracy and freedom ... in the face of these protests, the government response has been wrong."
Whether Chakkour's apparent resignation ends up being an outlier, or a moment when major cracks in the regime first burst into the open, is hard to say. After hundreds of democracy protesters were killed by Qaddafi's forces in mid-February, a slew of ambassadors resigned globally, weakening that regime diplomatically but not stopping Libya's descent into civil war.
What's certain is that her decision comes after weeks of horrific reports trickling out of Syria that probably have lots of Syrian officials asking themselves how much violence they're willing to be associated with. Earlier today, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that Assad was no longer the legitimate ruler of Syria, and that's a position an increasing number of Syrians seem to be taking.
There have been worrying signs that the democracy protesters are arming up and the country is lurching towards a civil war of its own. In Lebanon, there are rumors of arms starting to flow to Assad's opponents. The Syrian government's own propaganda machine claims security forces have come under unprovoked attack by demonstrators.
The Monitor doesn't have anyone on the ground in Syria at the moment, but judging by the videos and eyewitness reports that continue to trickle out of the country, I believe most deaths have been at the government's hands. But it's also clear that the opponents of the Assad regime are being pushed hard, and a greater measure of violence in response to the government's behavior seems likely.
In an ominous move, the government moved tanks into the city of Hama last weekend. Hama is the canonic example of how the Assads (Bashar, succeeded his father Hafez upon his death in 2000, after 29 years of rule) deals with challenges to their authority. In 1982, Hama was gripped by an Islamist uprising. After fierce fighting, forces led by Hafez's brother Rifaat won back the town, and carried out mass executions of regime opponents after their victory. Human Rights Watch says the most credible estimates of those killed at Hama range between 5,000 and 10,000.
What comes next for the international community is hard to say. Syria is a much more complicated place than Libya, particularly given its proximity to Israel and conflicts with that country. The Assad family and some of their supporters are Alawites, a small sect far outside of the mainstream that would be unlikely to ever gain power again under a more democratic system. And the country's flirtations with Iran and ties to both Hamas and Hezbollah would make any sort of international involvement a much more complicated question.