Arab states should be doing more to hasten the end of the Syrian regime, former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said at the Washington Ideas Forum today. "I think that everybody understands in the Arab region that this is over" for the Syrian regime, he said. "I will give it between 6 months and a year, but in the end no one in the region will be able to tolerate 30 deaths a day." Still, he predicted more violence. "The protesters are dead men walking right now," he said. "It is going to be bloody."
Muasher, currently a Middle East specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and also a former deputy prime minister of Jordan, was speaking at a lunch panel discussion underwritten by Reuters. Though the subject of the panel was "The Media's Role in the Arab Spring," the conversation quickly turned to the events in Syria. "This is a regime that is 10 percent of the population ruling over 90 percent," he added of the government led by President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawite minority sect. "For them, reform means their own death sentence."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department and a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, said Syria's protesters face a difficult choice. "The question for the people in the streets is whether non-violent resistance will work and whether that turns into armed resistance and civil war," she said. Patty Culhae, Al Jazeera's White House correspondent and the moderator of the lunch panel, asked what outside countries could do.
"I don't see a strong direct role for the United States in the Arab Spring," Muasher said. Sanctions won't work, he joked, because "when people are drowning they don't care if they get wet." He and Slaughter agreed the problem was not for the U.S. or NATO to solve. "The question is less for the United States and NATO and more for the countries of the region," Slaughter said, citing Turkey, which could create a "protected buffer zone" where Syrian activists could gather and organize. Thousands of Syrian refugees have already crossed the border into Turkey. She added that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan "is boxing himself in" by condemning Assad's crackdown. "If sanctions don't work" she said of Erdogan "your credibility is increasingly on the line."
Muasher emphasized the role of Arab states. "There is a lot of responsibility that falls on the countries in the region like Turkey but also like Saudi Arabia," he said, emphasizing that the oil-rich Saudi monarchy would have to play a central role. "The Saudis will have to take the lead." Muasher also suggested change could come from "an internal job from inside the regime" such as "an Alawite general" turning against Assad.
Muasher said the U.S. could play a significant role in helping the region's remaining non-democracies in "accelerating the pace of reform" in those countries. But that could be difficult with regards to Saudi Arabia, he explained. "I'm very concerned about the Saudi-U.S. relationship right now," he said. "Now there is major disagreement over what is happening in the Arab uprisings." The Saudi monarchy has been wary of the popular uprisings spreading in the region. But non-democratic Arab governments will have to reform in order to survive, Muasher argued. "Either they lead a reform process, and a sustained and serious one led from above, or they let the street lead it. But today to sit and do nothing is not an option," he said.
The panel members also discussed the role of the media, social and traditional, in the Arab Spring movements across the region. Editor-in-Chief of Reuters News Stephen Adler said that both played roles, though in different ways. "I don't credit social media with what happened, but it was certainly a facilitator," he said, adding that "we in traditional media are consumers of this social media." He also noted that four of Reuters' correspondents in Syria has been detained and expelled. Comparing the Arab Spring movements to the Occupy Wall Street protests, Adler said that social media can at times play a leveling political role. It's "not necessarily a medium that produces solutions but it's a medium that's very anti-hierarchical, very anti-elites," he explained.