Syrians participate in a pro-government rally at Sabe Bahrat Square in Damascus yesterday. According to media, thousands of supporters of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad rallied to protest the Arab League sanctions. Image Credit: EPA

Approximately nine months into the crisis, the Syrian regime has made little progress in convincing critics that it is not shooting peaceful demonstrators on a daily basis, that it is a victim of a universal conspiracy intent at punishing it for its "heroic resistance" to western designs in the region, and that it is serious about introducing far-reaching political reforms.

Repeated denial of security forces' involvement in eliminating dissidents, blaming the bloodshed on terrorists acting out a foreign plan to divide and undermine Syria, pledges to start national dialogue with opposition groups, accelerating efforts to amend the constitution and a conditional agreement to co-operate with the Arab League peace plan, did not impress fellow Arabs, let alone the western powers.

After months of a cruel crackdown that has left more than 4,000 people dead, many described Syria's pledges as empty promises.

Last week, the Arab League passed by a unanimous 19-0 vote a resolution to impose harsh measures against Syria. Two of the League members — Iraq and Lebanon — abstained. For a country that has for long boasted of being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism, that must have come as powerful psychological blow.

The economic impact is no less harmful. The Arab sanctions include cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank, halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria and freezing government assets. Those sanctions are to take effect immediately. Other steps, including halting flights and imposing travel bans on senior Syrian officials, will come later after a committee reviews them. If Syria fails to comply with the Arab-brokered plan, which includes pulling tanks from the streets and ending violence against civilians, the matter could be referred to the UN Security Council. That would be a watershed development. It could set the stage for a Libyan-style scenario.

Security state

Syrian officials often complain that nobody is willing to listen to their part of the story. They think that no matter what they do to prove their innocence nobody would believe them since the aim is to topple the regime. But the fact is that Syria is paying the price for being a security state that is capable of doing anything in order to silence any kind of opposition. A long history of eliminating foes on mere political grounds and disallowing any form of dissent leaves little doubt that the regime would not use brute force to quash the protest movement.

Syria's hesitation to co-operate with the Arab League and allow observers into the country to see for themselves who was shooting at whom gives the impression that the regime is hiding something. Similarly, banning foreign journalists and preventing independent reporting inside the country raises many eyebrows. Had the regime been more open and transparent, it could have been easier to ward off accusations of committing heinous political acts.

In addition, since the eruption of the protest movement last March, the regime has been dragging its feet in implementing long-awaited reforms. It was also reluctant to hold accountable security personnel widely believed to be responsible for the killing of peaceful protesters.

The fact that the regime did not ever believe that the Arab world, let alone the international community, would move against it also gave a false sense of ease. At best, the regime believed, the toothless Arab League could come with a report that describes the political situation surrounding the crisis. When the League decided to suspended Syria's membership, the move unleashed a wave of anger in Damascus. Syrian officials lambasted the League's decision as part of "a western-Zionist agenda" to punish it for preventing western designs to carve up the Arab world.

The Syrian regime could have been in a much better position had it paid more attention to the whole issue from the very beginning. At least Damascus should have held its security officials in Daraa, the place where the uprising began, to account for using disproportionate force against their fellow countrymen. Instead, some of these officials were promoted to more senior positions.

It is abundantly clear that the Syrian regime has not been cornered because of the smart policies of the imaginary "plotters", but because of the pathetic response and policies which have been used to handle this whole crisis from the very beginning. As one US official once put it: "The US does not need to think hard about what to do with Syria. All we have to do is to count its mistakes". This is exactly what has been happening over the past few months.

The Syrian regime should not claim henceforth that the world is plotting against it, because there is no need to plot as long as it handles this issue in such an awkward manner. 

Dr Marwan Kabalan is Dean of the Faculty of International Relations and Diplomacy, Kalamoon University, Damascus, Syria.