Finally, five months after Syria began to brutally suppress demonstrations by its own people, the Arab world is telling President Bashar Assad enough is enough.
Late as it was in coming, the denunciation was a sign of welcome change in a region where despots had a mutual-protection society. Several of those despots are now in exile or awaiting trial, and the end of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s long and brutal rule seems only a matter of time.
On Sunday, the 22-member Arab League spoke for the first time — mildly, to be sure — expressing “growing concern and serious distress” over regime tactics, which consist of troops firing on demonstrators, and tanks and other armored vehicles pounding unarmed towns into submission.
Puling its punches, the League said there was still time to enact reforms, promises the Syrian people have heard before.
Also breaking his silence was King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, no friend of dissent, who recalled his ambassador and demanded “an end to the killing machine and the bloodshed.” This is the same leader who dispatched troops to neighboring Bahrain to help suppress demonstrations there.
Bahrain and Kuwait have withdrawn their ambassadors to Damascus.
The Gulf Cooperation Council — a group of oil-rich states, and not a notably political organization — called for an immediate end to the violence.
Turkey, a neighbor and onetime ally, also called for an end to the shooting, only to be met with a snarling response.
The sudden Arab interest in a peaceful Syria would have been much more effective three or four months ago if Arab states and organizations had offered to act as guarantors for Assad’s assuredly insincere promises of political, economic and legal reforms.
But the demonstrations have gone beyond that. Now the demonstrators want Assad and his relatives out. And The New York Times is reporting that the influential business elite, generally supportive of the regime, is making contingency plans for the fall of the regime.
Assad is in a bind. It’s too late for him to turn back, and going forward, he may indeed crush the demonstrations — but at the cost of a populace simmering with rage and silently bent on revenge.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.