x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Arab pressure will make a difference

Kuwait has become the first Arab country to denounce the Syrian regime's oppression of its own people. This is significant, and should be helpful.

Foreign pressure to stop the bloody and gruesome clampdown against peaceful protesters in Syria should come from Arab and neighbouring countries, if it is to be effective. The Baath regime has, over its 40 years in power, developed a thick-skinned ability to withstand criticism from the West.

Arabs, though presumably supportive of Syrians' protests, have been silent, by and large. But now that is changing. The first Arab condemnation came from Kuwait yesterday, and was soon followed by a strong statement from the GCC, which called for immediate halt to violence and an end to the bloodshed. Such positions are quite significant and will yield results if echoed by more Arab nations.

Just last month Kuwait provided 30 million Kuwaiti dinars (Dh403 mn) worth of loans to the Syrian regime, through the Arab Development Fund. The quite different Kuwaiti statement yesterday is in part a response to protests by hundreds of Kuwaiti activists, including members of parliament, in solidarity with the Syrian people.

By taking a strong stance through sanctions or diplomatic pressure, regional countries can make the Syrian regime's isolation more effective. Denied resources such as oil and loans, the regime will ultimately become exhausted and incapable of maintaining the crackdown. Even the prospect of that may compel the regime to reflect on its fate. The news that Turkey intercepted an arms shipment from Iran to Syria last Sunday is a good example of what neighbours can do.

That is not to say that pressure from the wider world is not necessary. It should continue, including sanctions and encouraging regional allies to take a stronger stance. Many states outside the region have been supportive of the rallies. Even Russia, using a tone unprecedented since colonial times, has warned Bashar Al Assad of a "sad fate" unless he halts the military clampdown.

Nearly five months into the uprising, the Assad regime is still acting with impunity. The death toll is steadily on the rise, with 2,000 killed so far, and many thousands arrested. The bravery of the Syrian people, as demonstrated in the streets throughout the country every day, should give them the final say. Regional countries should do what it takes to stop the bloodshed, and the rest should be left to the Syrians.