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Will Syria's Assad "step aside" now the world's leaders have told him to?

By Joseph Willits 
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Assadshoe After months of protest in Syria against President Assad and the Ba’athist regime, President Obama has said it is time for the Syrian leader to “step aside”. Obama said that “the future of Syria must be determined by its people” and that the US “cannot and will not impose this transtion upon Syria” but will support "an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians. We will support this outcome by pressuring President Assad to get out of the way of this transition".

His calls were echoed by David Cameron in a joint statement with Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel shortly afterwards.  The joint statement reads that the Syrian authorities:

“continue to cruelly and violently repress their people and flatly refuse to fulfil their legitimate aspirations.  They have ignored the voice of the Syrian people and continuously  misled them and the international community with empty promises.”

The statement condemns the “bloody repression of peaceful and courageous demonstrators” and raises the issue of “massive violations” in terms of human rights.  The statement itself comes after a report by the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay who urged the Security Council, that those responsible for the atrocities in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court.  Cameron, Merkel and Sarkozy called for the “release [of] prisoners of conscience” and that the Syrian government allowed “free access to the United Nations for an independent assessment of the situation.”

They said that President Assad had lost all “legitimacy” and that he “can no longer claim to lead the country.  The statement continued that Assad should “face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and … step aside”.

All three leaders show their willingness in “actively supporting further strong EU sanctions against the regime of President Assad”.  In an article for Open Democracy, Islam Qasem, an analyst at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, said that “sanctions are unlikely to produce the desired effect in time”.  However, they will “suck the economic and political oxygen out of the regime” and “demonstrate that western countries are serious about ending the brutal crackdown on the protests.”

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief also condemned Assad’s “brutal campaign” against protestors, saying that Syria should grant “free access [to] international humanitarian and human rights organisations”. Ashton also called for free media to be allowed and “a genuine and inclusive national dialogue launched."

This announcement comes after more than 2000 people in Syria have been killed since protests began, with thousands being detained and most probably tortured.  Although this current stance, and various statements from Western leaders are being  welcomed across Syria, and the rest of the world, there is a sense that this international reaction to President Assad comes too late. 

Some might argue that this is simply posturing from Western leaders, who have no desperate or urgent need to halt the aggression from the Syrian regime.  To many, their delayed complete condemnation is evidence of this.  The discussion of reform, both from them, and Assad himself, and the constant misuse of the word “legitimate” has done nothing to stop the spread of pessimism about what the international community can actually do.  

How seriously will Assad himself accept this united damnation on him, and his regime, is another question to be asked in relation to these statements.  Could President Assad just "give up", or has he the potential to become a firm opponent of 'the West?'  The end of Assad’s regime is close, some say a matter of weeks, others slightly longer, but perhaps this firm, and united horror towards the actions of the regime from several world leaders may enhance that.  

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