After eight months of Syria protests, the Arab League decision to suspend Syria's membership gives regional backing for UN sanctions, which could ease Russian and Chinese opposition.
An emerging Arab consensus against Syria for its brutal assault on a pro-democracy uprising paves the way for broader international pressure on the Assad regime.
Much like the Arab League support for a Libyan no-fly zone made international action politically possible, Saturday’s vote by the Arab League to suspend Syria's membership in the bloc makes international action more likely.
While the League's members made clear that they were not endorsing military action this time, their public stance against Syria could help turn the tide in a stand-off now entering its ninth month – both by opening the way for United Nations Security Council sanctions and by helping to unite the fragmented Syrian opposition.
“The significance of the Arab League's decision was that it had finally lifted the Arab cover from the Assad regime,” says Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. The addition of regional Arab opposition to Turkish and Western criticism of Syria, he says, will lead to a coalition that "is not only going to seek to pressure and isolate the regime, but will also increasingly be looking at a post-Assad Syria."
Since Saturday’s vote, the European Union has imposed additional sanctions on 18 Syrians it says are responsible for or associated with the regime’s repression. Jordan’s King Abdullah said Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should step down. He is the first Arab leader to say so publicly.
Syria’s neighbor and one-time friend Turkey is also ratcheting up the pressure: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday he had lost confidence in Syria’s regime. Turkey’s energy minister, meanwhile, threatened to review its electricity supply to Syria, if Syria does not change course, and said Turkey had canceled oil exploration plans in the country.
At the same time, Syria continued violence against protesters, with activist groups reporting that at least 70 people were killed by security forces in the past day. More than 250 people have been killed so far this month, according to Syrian activists. The UN estimates that more than 3,500 people have died since the uprising began.