The Syrian protesters' cry for help

Arab nations and the West are closer to acting against the Assad regime – perhaps even militarily – to end the slaughter of pro-democracy protesters. The consequences of inaction are becoming worse than action.

Reuters
Pro-government Syrian police faces protesters during demonstrations against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Damascus suburb of Douma Dec. 30.

One year on, the Arab Spring has liberated three countries – Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt – although they are only in North Africa. Now a pivotal nation in the Middle East, Syria, could be next – depending on the conscience of the world.

The almost-daily killings of Syrian protesters by the Assad regime is finally forcing serious diplomatic action. In coming days, both the West and other Arab states will need to respond to the worldwide revulsion over televised videos of Syrians being slaughtered simply for demanding freedom.

Two pieces are already in place. A key player, Turkey, has turned on its onetime ally next door after thousands of protesters were killed. And international economic sanctions are biting the regime, although they don’t seem to be making much of a difference in Assad’s killing machine.

Last week, the 22-nation Arab League sent about 70 observers to Syria to try to curb the massacres, simply by their presence in major cities. Their efforts are too little and highly suspect, especially as they are led by a military general from Sudan held responsible for killings in Darfur.

And the Arab League’s advisory body, the Arab Parliament, insisted Sunday that the observers leave. President Bashar al-Assad is violating a pact with the league by, for example, not allowing journalists into Syria. And wherever the observers are present, the regime simply hides its tanks and relies on snipers to kill opponents.

All this is leading the White House to seriously weigh international options for humanitarian aid and a safety zone for opposition Syrians, much like the use of military force in Libya. “If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians,” a State Department spokesman said Dec. 27.

That effort will be helped by a unity pact signed in Cairo last Friday between Syria’s two main opposition groups. The agreement promises a democratic Syria and asks for the international community to protect the protesting civilians.

Both the West and Arab leaders know that the regime’s days are numbered. Last Friday, an estimated half-million Syrians were out in protest, the largest demonstrations in months. Dozens were killed by the regime.

If Arab leaders would now ask the United Nations to approve a NATO-led no-fly zone over portions of Syria, then the world could finally see a Libyan-style liberation.

The big difference, however, is that regime change in Syria would affect the interests of Iran and Israel, and possibly cause a refugee crisis. The unknown consequences of a power vacuum in Syria have put a damper so far on the West’s humanitarian impulse to intervene.

The difficult task of finding a balance between saving lives and avoiding the unknown in the Middle East has now tipped toward saving lives. Syrians and most Arabs are ready to act. Will the West and the UN help them?

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.