It’s hard to keep a good idea – like liberty – down. But Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has certainly tried.
Over months of protests almost every day, he has used everything from bullets to Internet censorship to cutoffs of food to end an uprising that seeks freedom from his family’s 42 years in power.
Even other Arab dictators are embarrassed. The 22-member Arab League sent a delegation to see Mr. Assad on Wednesday. It demanded an end to the crackdown by Oct. 31 or else Syria might be thrown out of the league. It also wants Assad to agree to “the people’s demands.”
In most Syrian cities, a wellspring of opposition has pushed the regime to absurd reactions. This week, for example, thousands of merchants closed their shops nationwide in a general strike. What did the military do? It used force to open the shops – as if merchants would then simply conduct their business.
The Army’s foot soldiers are kept in the dark about the extent of the protests. Those who refuse to shoot their own citizens are themselves killed on the spot. In Washington, a Syrian agent was caught sending recordings of protests in the United States for use in targeting their families back home.
Assad lost even more foreign support this week after a smear campaign in the state media against American Ambassador Robert Ford forced him to leave the country out of concern for his life.
Step by step, as more Syrians accept the possibility of a new reality for themselves, the regime fumbles, exposing the bankruptcy of its claim to rule by force and fiat. A once-spontaneous uprising has now begun to coalesce into a single organized body, the Syrian National Council.
Hundreds of soldiers have defected and formed guerrilla units. International sanctions are starting to bite on key regime figures and oil exports. With the killing of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and the success of Tunisia’s election, Syrians see more reason and hope for their cause.
This moral momentum will make it difficult for Russia and China to once again veto tough measures against Syria at the United Nations Security Council, as they did a few weeks ago. In the US Senate, there are calls for the International Criminal Court to try Assad for crimes against humanity.
The most difficult task is persuading Syria’s minority Alewites to turn against Assad, one of their own. That sect still commands the armed forces. It needs to see this revolution not as a struggle by the majority Sunnis to rule but as one that seeks democracy and inclusion for all of Syria’s sects and ethnicities.
So far, the opposition reflects that desire by honoring the diversity of protesters, from Islamists to Kurds. At its core are young people inspired by the ideals of a free society, such as rule of law and civic rights.
Foreign intervention in Syria, as in Libya, is still remote. Yet more nations can begin to recognize the organized opposition and enforce sanctions. The Arab League can insist on foreign media being allowed back into Syria to keep watch on the regime’s actions.
Since March, more than 3,000 protesters have been killed in Syria. Thousands more have been jailed or “disappeared.” But those horrific numbers don’t tell the whole story. Add to them the number of people, inside Syria and out, who take a stand for liberating one more Arab country from tyranny.