x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Assad cannot ignore growing consensus

The King of Jordan has become the first Arab leader to say out loud that Bashar Al Assad should go. Daily, the pressure on Syria's regime keeps growing.

King Abdullah of Jordan has become the first Arab ruler to make a public call for Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president, to encourage a peaceful transition by leaving office. Even though Mr Al Assad is embattled, the king's statement was noteworthy for its boldness.

Since protests began in Syria eight months ago, Mr Al Assad's security forces have killed at least 3,500 protesters. Many Syrians, and foreign leaders farther away, have already and repeatedly called for him to abandon office.

But the king's statement is significant all the same. It came just two days after Arab nations closed ranks against Syria through sweeping Arab League resolutions suspending Syria from League meetings and brandishing economic sanctions.

Jordan was the only one of Syria's immediate Arab neighbours to vote for the resolutions; Iraq abstained and Lebanon voted against. Sanctions, if they come, will be more effective if neighbours enforce them.

The royal statement must be examined in the context of the protection of civilians, an increasingly serious matter as killings continue daily. The Arab League, in its resolutions, vowed to work towards protecting civilians. If Arab observers, including human rights experts, do not succeed in that effort, the Arab League says it would be prepared to ask international organisations to help safeguard the Syrian public.

Arab foreign ministers, meeting today in Rabat, are to discuss ways to protect civilians, with the assistance of Turkey and the approval of the League.

King Abdullah is widely seen internationally as moderate and is respected, and so his comments will help build the consensus needed to increase global pressure on the Syrian regime.

The king's status - combined with the League's new boldness - may help convince Russia and China to relax their resistance to sanctions and other measures short of military action, which no responsible party wants.

The Jordanian monarch has become the first Arab leader to speak out directly against Mr Al Assad staying in office; he may not be the last. The Arab League’s own courage on the issue may point the way. With each new death in Syria, the pressure on the regime becomes greater.