Reasons behind this extremely unattractive scenario: unclarity and uneasiness about the post-Assad period, a divided opposition and an army that is closely connected to the Assad family and, therefore, unwilling to follow in the footsteps of the Egyptian army that gave up on former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when domestic opposition became too strong.
I am afraid we are basically still in the same situation as three months ago, whereas hundreds of peaceful protesters have been killed. Since the uprising began in March an estimated 2,000 people have been murdered and many more are missing or have been arrested. Every week new calls on the Syrian regime to stop with its violent oppression are made and several rounds of new sanctions are announced. Friends and foes have threatened Assad that he will not get away with it, but up until now none of those pleas or commands has been successful. The Syrian opposition gathered in Turkey a number of times but foreign governments keep complaining about a lack of coordination and shared goals. The fear that a removal of Assad from power might lead to an uncontrollable and long period of civil strife in Syria is still strong, both inside the country and abroad.
Turkey is playing a growing and dominant role in the diplomatic efforts to put pressure on the Assad regime to stop killing its own people. Last week Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Damascus and made it clear that patience in Ankara has run out. The results of the visit are slightly ambiguous. The Turkish government expects Assad to change course within two weeks but is at the same time openly preparing for a situation in which the repression continues. According to the last script, Turkey should be ready to receive many more refugees and strengthen its borders with Syria.
Outside of Turkey, reactions to the Davutoğlu visit have been positive, assessing it as a clear-cut and well coordinated attempt to force Assad to abandon his murderous policies. Inside Turkey, the foreign minister was criticized from two totally different angles. Opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused the Erdoğan government of being “the voice of America,” thereby showing again that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is still unable to read the developments in the Arab world in a proper way. Why speak out against a Turkish foreign policy that cunningly combines Turkey’s own interests with the concerns of the wider international community? Others were disappointed because of the lack of concrete results and are convinced that Turkey should be tougher on the Syrian regime because, according to these critics, more talk about deadlines and sanctions will simply not convince the ruling elite in Damascus. I sympathize with the skeptics on the effect of more diplomatic or economic pressure at the moment, but the problem is that none of them have come up with viable alternatives. Everyone, including Assad, knows that military intervention is not realistic, looking at the problems the United States and the European Union are having at home, economically, and abroad, in Libya and Afghanistan, militarily. Even more important, for the moment there is no support for an armed foreign intervention, neither in Syria nor in the rest of the Arab world.
Taking all options into account, the only realistic scenario seems to be to continue helping the Syrian opposition to unite and further isolate the Syrian regime. On the last point, the US and the EU have done their part but their efforts will only produce results once the other main players join in. Behind the scenes, China and India are pushed to use their influence on the Syrian oil and gas industry while Russia is under pressure to stop selling arms to Assad. Turkey will be called upon to do its bit in tightening the screws. My guess is that after the end of Ramadan Ankara will be ready to do so.
Let’s hope the outspoken anti-Assad and very active Syrian twitterer @BSyria is right. Two days ago he wrote: “The Syrian regime remains strong. It’s like a big (evil) tree that is being cut down. Cutting is in progress, but it hasn’t begun falling yet.”