By Kane Prior.

Horror is unravelling in Syria right now, with over 12,000 people killed since March last year. An uprising from the Syrian people that has repeatedly been stamped down upon by President Bashar al-Assad, is threatening to turn into an outright civil war. The Syrian government has been accused of tight censorship, unfair imprisonment of critics and boasts one of the worst human right records in the world. The major starting point was last year when a group of teenagers were arrested and  tortured for painting revolutionary graffiti, which led to protests on the streets. The government responded by shooting down protesters and then unbelievably shooting at those who mourned the victims at their funerals. This was the turning point for a population that was already bubbling over, with the uprising a long time coming.

So why is the violence still going on? One main problem is that the resistance is fractured, with no major framework around the country to plan the uprising. This has allowed the Government to squash most disturbances through the use of the army, currently much better organised and with better weapons. This is the other disadvantage the rebel’s face, as they struggle to compete with the highly armed Syrian army, though other countries have worked at supplying the rebels with weapons (a strategy long used to replace actual intervention).

Syrian rebels struggle against the better equipped Syrian army.

But why are other countries not getting involved? The UK and France seem open to the idea of intervention, after both countries led the intervention into Libya last year. David Cameron was even said to be angered by Mr Assad’s apparent exemption from punishment. The USA seems more reluctant with Obama facing elections this year and America hesitant to use military intervention unless either oil or the safety of the country are involved, though they are open to economic sanctions. These sanctions have lead to Syria’s two biggest sectors crashing – tourism and oil, while basic needs like food and water have become hard to get access to in the country. Syria is also not the same as Libya, with three times the population and a much more advanced and well organised army, military intervention would be a lot harder. The real problem however is that China and Russia have vetoed UN resolutions that would impose tougher sanctions on Syria and are strongly against any sort of intervention. Without these two countries backing, the UN cannot intervene in Syria. The UN has tried to promote peace; with Kofi Annan brokering talks between the two sides unsuccessfully and the UN peacekeepers trying to stop internal conflicts in the country. But 300 peacekeepers were always going to struggle with a population of 23 million while recent reports of UN monitors being shot at will dissuade plans on increasing such numbers.

Both Russia and China veto the UN resolution.

So why are they against intervention? Russia still seems annoyed at the UN’s intervention in Libya, where a resolution of protecting civilians was stretched to the point of firing on Gaddafi’s forces. Mr Putin is also close allies with Mr Assad and Russia is a big exporter of weapons to the country. China have similar links to the regime and loath the idea of the west getting involved in another country so close to home. Russia suggests that the west ignore the violence of the rebels too much, picking their side over Mr Assad and that without their resistance to intervention the west would have gone in guns blazing instead of trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis. They make fair points and to Russia’s credit they are actively exploring peaceful alternatives to military intervention. But the attempted peace talks have fallen through now and the ceasefire was largely ignored, outside intervention seems the only way of stopping the bloodshed. If anything the actions of Russia and China have given Mr Assad the resolve he needed to keep up the violence, with little fear of retribution.

Mr Assad and Mr Putin close allies.

What will happen next then? If there is to be a solution to this crisis, Mr Assad cannot stay in power. He is hated by his people and any promises made will be not be trusted. But a complete revolution would topple the country and leave it in chaos. Instead the general framework of the state should remain, but new leaders and officials should replace the current government.  With the help of the UN, Syria could re-establish peace within its country and then push through the reforms that Mr Assad had disregarded for too long. The economy needs major improvement; with a contraction in GDP of 2% last year, unemployment near 10% and the Syrian currency currently crashing. While reliable democratic elections would be a good start. The country could look to Egypt, where despite the furore around the two presidential candidates, the country is experiencing only its second election with more than one candidate, a big moment in its history that Syria could look to replicate.

The Egyptian elections show that democracy can prevail after an uprising, some hope for Syria. 

But that solution is a long way off. Mr Assad easily outguns the rebels right now and hopes of the army refusing to fire on their own people are long gone. Russia and China are stopping any outside intervention so Mr Assad has free reign to do whatever it takes to stay in power.

Yet he too is now starting to feel the pressure. Mr Assad used to be to take solace in the fact that the main cities were largely untouched by the violence; this is no longer the case. Damascus (the capital city) is seeing increasingly more gun fights and discontent is rising in the rich as the battle reaches their own doorstep. The disaster in Houla has also seemed to open some eyes with even Russia and China denouncing the violence, as one of the bloodiest events in Syria since the uprising and also the worst since the UN had tried to invoke a ceasefire. The massacre involved the murder of more than hundred people (including 49 children) in their own homes and is largely accepted to have been the work of Mr Assad’s regime. A similar event has now happened in Mazraat al-Qubeir, where 78 were reportedly killed by the regimes men using knifes and clubs. This has increased the needs for buffer zones on the border between Syria and Turkey, which would help both save Syrian lives and show the public that efforts are being made to help (a vital boost to morale). There is debate on whether Syria would attack such zones, but that would just make the calls for military intervention louder.


A mass funeral in Houla, Syria. 

In the long term Mr Assad will lose his power, it really is just a question of how long that will take. With external force, it could be achieved faster and save thousands of lives. But there would need to be a plan for what happens afterwards, a structure in place for the next government and the UN’s help in settling the country down. Just look at the state of Afghanistan to know what happens when military intervention is poorly planned.


Kane Prior writes about economic issues from around the world at the Economic Interests blog. His twitter is @econInterests.

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