While sanctions have been extended in Syria, calls for foreign military intervention similar to that in Libya, are on the rise. The majority of the Syrian opposition, however, reject these calls.
The death toll in Syria has now reached over 2,500 people, and the whereabouts of more than 3,000 protesters are unknown. Despite the harsh repression, Syrians are still demonstrating against the regime. President Assad has recalled Ali Duba, Muhammad Khuli, and Maen Aakel, three of his father's bloodiest assistants during the 1980s, as advisers in the presidential palace.
The Syrian National Transitional Council, headed by prominent leftist figure Burhan Ghalioun and composed of 92 members – 42 of whom are inside Syria – has been criticised by several key opposition groups inside Syria for having damaged their cause, underscoring the fragmented nature of the opposition.
The recently formed Coalition of Free Damascenes for Peaceful Change (CFDPC), a network dedicated to organising and reporting protests in and around the capital, said the initiative to unite the opposition had to come from inside Syria. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) also criticised the initiative, saying there should have been more discussions with the opposition inside Syria. The LCC helps organise and document protests, producing a daily newsletter for the international and Arabic media.
On the ground, defections in the army are still happening, while Adnan Muhammad al-Bakkour, the attorney general of Hama province, has announced his resignation, denouncing mass graves made by security forces, arrests and torture of peaceful demonstrators, and the destruction of homes by the army.
On 9 September, the Syrian popular movement appealed to the international community to send human rights monitors to help deter military attacks on civilians in the increasingly bloody repression. Syria's opposition said a rise in the number of protesters killed during the revolt had won over many reluctant Syrians to the need for outside help.
Will sanctions help to the victory of the revolutionary process in Syria? Could the end of Gaddafi regime with the help of NATO be an example to follow for the Syrian opposition? The answer to these questions is no.
Dealing with sanctions
The international community has since the beginning of the Syrian uprising imposed sanctions on individuals and entities benefiting from or supporting the regime. The European Union recently extended sanctions to three Syrian companies including Real Estate Bank, Cham Investment Group and Mada Transport. These sanctions banned European states from doing business with the named companies.
Four Syrian businessmen – Fares Chehabi, Emad Ghraiwati, Tarif Akhras and Issam Anbouba – were also added to a list of people affected by EU asset freezes and travel bans. They are in addition to 50 people, including three Iranian officials, and eight Syrian and Iranian companies and organisations already affected.
On 23 August the US, France and Britain circulated a draft resolution to the UNSC proposing that the foreign assets of President Assad, his brother Maher, as well as 21 other government officials be frozen. However, President Assad was left off the list of the 22 officials whose travel from Syria would also be barred.
The sanctions reached another level recently with the embargo on Syrian oil decided by the US and the European Union. These sanctions will affect the Syrian people. We have historic examples showing how economic sanctions do not necessarily weaken a regime, such as in Iraq in the past or Iran currently, but can in fact strengthen it.
Last month, President Obama ordered further sanctions against the Syrian government and announced that no Syrian petroleum or petroleum products could be imported into the US. While the US does not import significant amounts of petroleum products from Syria, the sanctions from the European Union will hit the country particularly hard, as the country gets about 28 percent of its revenue from the oil trade and sells fuel to France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
Syria exports some 150,000 barrels of oil per day, with the vast majority going to the European Union. EU trade spokesman, John Clancy, said Syria earned 3.1bn euros ($4.4bn) by selling oil to the EU in 2010. Oil from Syria amounted to 1.5 percent of the EU's total crude oil imports that year.
The embargo will not be decisive in breaking the regime. Firstly, the embargo will not start immediately – delivery contracts signed by European oil companies with Syria and its two state-controlled companies (Petroleum and Syria Sytrol) will actually continue to be honored until 15 November, on the request of Italy, which imports up to 30 percent of its oil from Syria, underscoring divisions in Europe. Italy claimed that Italian firms needed time to adapt.
Secondly, the Syrian regime can find other countries, elsewhere than Europe, to sell its oil or count on allied countries. It can therefore sidetrack the embargo, thus reducing its impact.
These sanctions will mostly harm the people and not the regime. The Syrian Central Bank has actually spent $2 billion defending its currency since the start of the uprising five months ago. The money came from a fund the government created two years ago that had $5 billion when the revolt began. The Syrian currency has actually only lost 3-8 percent against the dollar during the same period. The Syrian regime can continue to rule and repress its own people even under embargo. Smuggling and money transfers are also useful ways to bypass the embargo and enrich small elites.
We should remind ourselves that the Syrian regime has been under sanctions since 2003, with no effective results to weaken it whatsoever. Sanctions and the call for human rights monitors demanded by the popular movement against the regime are understandable, and should be respected on the basis of the people's self-determination. It is nevertheless the continuation of the struggle of the Syrian people above all that will be decisive to overthrow the regime and not sanctions, which can be used by imperialists to get a hand in the revolutionary process. They have not been able to do this since the beginning of the uprising because of the popular movement's refusal to foreign interference.
Sanctions could become a tool to pave the way for a future military intervention by imperialist powers against the will of the majority of the Syrian people, which would be catastrophic for the country.
Foreign military intervention
The call from so-called opponents of the Syrian regime, such as Abdel Halim Khaddam (living in exile in Paris and linked to the US and the Future Movement of Saad Hariri in Lebanon), for foreign military intervention to overthrow the Assad regime is dangerous. Khaddam was a close companion of Hafez al-Assad for more than 20 years and was vice president in Syria during his rule. He claims the Libyan rebels, with the assistance of NATO, have shown that foreign intervention does not have to mean occupation.
The majority of the Syrian opposition, in exile and inside the country, have nevertheless denounced these calls. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, declared on 29 August their will to continue to resist peacefully against the criminal regime:
“We specifically reject this position as we find it unacceptable politically, nationally, and ethically. Militarising the revolution would minimise popular support and participation in the revolution. Moreover, militarisation would undermine the gravity of the humanitarian catastrophe involved in a confrontation with the regime. Militarisation would put the revolution in an arena where the regime has a distinct advantage, and would erode the moral superiority that has characterised the revolution since its beginning”.
The statement goes on to explain how the objective of Syria’s revolutionary process is not limited to overthrow of the regime, but also seeks to build a democratic system and national infrastructure that safeguards the freedom and dignity of the people. The method by which the regime is overthrown is an indication of what Syria will be like post-regime. They justify this position by saying that if the Syrian people maintain their peaceful demonstrations, the possibility of democracy in the country is much greater.
They add that if an armed confrontation or international military intervention becomes a reality, it will be virtually impossible to establish a legitimate foundation for a future Syria. They call on Syrians to remain patient as they continue their national revolution, holding the regime fully responsible for the current situation in the country, the blood of all martyrs – civilian and military – and any risks that may threaten Syria in the future, including the possibility of internal violence or foreign military intervention.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission, which now boasts nearly 120 local committees, also called for a peaceful revolution free from sectarianism and foreign military intervention, in order to build a democratic, social and equal Syria. The Syrian opposition has understood the need to protect their revolution from co-option by foreign imperialists, as well as from the threat of a possible militarised war with the regime.
The message today from many Syrian protesters, despite the bloody and repressive campaign against them, is the following: No to foreign military intervention, no to the dictatorship and yes to the victory of revolution in Syria.
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