After weeks of demanding a strong statement by President Obama on the tragic developments in Syria, I was invited to attend his speech on U.S. policy towards the MENA region in view of the changes currently unfolding there. His references to Syria were encouraging, but were still below expectations, as he failed to call on Assad to leave. Nonetheless, one cannot expect President Obama to take such drastic step until the opposition got its act together. After which, I was interviewed at some length by The Washington Post.
“My colleagues and I have been invited to attend the event, and that in itself might be taken as a positive sign. We should soon find out,” he writes on his latest blog.
He welcomes US sanctions against Assad and calls on Europe to follow:
While sanctions issued by the US on Bashar al-Assad and his top officials might be largely symbolic, considering that none of them is likely to have major assets under US jurisdiction, the symbolism is nonetheless quite important. For the sanctions do undermine the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad leaving one avenue for future escalation: calling for his departure.
Assad has now been effectively presented with a “reform or leave” ultimatum, one that is likely to be endorsed by the EU when it imposes its own sanctions on Assad in the near future. Of course the EU sanctions will be more than symbolic, once they are implemented, because it is in Europe that the Assads keep most of their assets. Though tracking these assets may not be easy, and the sanctions may not have an immediate impact on the ability of the Assads and their determination to forge ahead with the violent crackdown against the protest movement, the delegitimisation of the Assads will come as a shot in the arm for the country’s protesters who have been calling on the international community to support them.
On the issue of calling on Assad to leave, the Time ran my quote:
The lack of any obvious opposition alternative to Assad limits what Western governments, including the U.S, can do, says Ammar Abdulhamid, a prominent U.S-based Syrian dissident. “We do want [Obama] to call on Assad to step down at one point soon, but that’s not going to happen until Syrian opposition and activists get together and formulate a viable alternative to manage the transitional period. Only then can we expect world leaders to be more forthcoming in their calls on Assad to step down.”