Will Syria follow the Arab Spring trend?

The Arab Spring is defined as the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests which first began back in 2010. To date, rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have been ousted. Syria is currently following suit but will democracy ever be established there?

Before the situation in Syria can be looked at, we need to know what happened in some of the successful revolutions. In Tunisia, the widely accepted causes were government corruption, inflation, unemployment and political repression. The revolution consisted of general strikes, civil resistance and demonstrations. Following three weeks of action, the Ben Ali government was overthrown and elections for a Constituent Assembly were held in October 2011. President Mubarak of Egypt was also ousted, the people apparently inspired by the events in Tunisia. In Libya, the United Nations Security Council passed an initial resolution freezing the assets of Gaddafi and referred the case to the International Criminal Court for investigation. Following Gaddafi breaking his promise of a ceasefire, rebels went on the offensive, taking back Tripoli before eventually capturing and killing Gaddafi. The result was that the international community accepted the National Transitional Council as the governing authority for Libya. A similar picture is painted in Yemen, where the Saleh government was overthrown and a new president was elected as a result of resistance over corruption, unemployment and ailing economic conditions.

So all of these countries appear to have had similar problems and have at solved them, in the sense that the governments responsible have been removed, so what is different with Syria? The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 between the Ba’ath party and President al-Assad and those seeking to remove him, the party having been in power for nearly five decades. However, the difference in Syria is that whilst multiple international organisations, including the Arab League, the United States and the European Union have condemned the brutality used against protesters, China and Russia have opposed attempted to issue a UN resolution against Assad. They have also opposed sanctions, citing that this would amount to foreign military intervention. Edward Luck, a UN advisor for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, told in an interview that he believed China and Russia threatened to use a veto because the responsibility to protect was not prominent enough, ‘There was a lot of regional pressure to act in the case of Libya…they felt they could not go against the Arab League or the African Union and try to block this kind of action’. In August 2011, the Arab League did make some statements in the Telegraph condemning the Syrian government’s actions but this was five months into the crisis. The Human Rights Council and the Security Council followed suit with similar statements. The turning point in Libya was when the Security Council called for the use of force to protect civilians, leading to NATO’s aerial intervention; this is seen as a major factor in bringing down Gaddafi. The difference in Syria is that no such definitive action has happened.

Perhaps China and Russia are the key in allowing the next course of action, but they are also sticking by their argument that international action could worsen the conflict. It appears that that the key differences in Syria are that the amount of political pressure on Syria to act does not match the other countries. International organisations have acted slower and concrete courses of action have not been taken. The situation was not helped when the UN envoy, Kofi Annan, resigned after violence escalated after observers deployed in April 2012 to monitor a ceasefire. The BBC writes that ‘with major powers unable to agree on a way forward, Mr Assad showing no signs of leaving power and the opposition deeply divided, there appears to be no end in sight.’

Whilst the causes and characteristics of the Syrian conflict appear to mirror those of previous revolutions, until the big international organisations agree on a course of action and the protesters coordinate themselves, it seems Assad is going to cling onto power. Very recently, the Syrian government agreed to a ceasefire to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, but many commentators believe this to be a ceasefire only in name. Hopefully democracy will prevail, but there needs to be further action.