Don't Let Syria Play Out Like 2009 Iran

The Reform Party of Syria, a U.S.-based democratic opposition group, estimates that only about 20 percent of the population is Islamist. Activist Ahed al-Hendi, a former political prisoner in Syria who was released in 2007 and is now the Arabic program coordinator at CyberDissidents.org, told me during an interview for FrontPage Magazine that he doesn’t believe the Muslim Brotherhood would take over Syria if Assad falls.

“I lived most of my life in Syria and I have met lots of Sunnis who consider applying Sharia law in Syria to be a joke despite the fact that most of them are observant Muslims,” he said. Secular opposition leader Riad al-Turk agrees that Assad is “using the threat of the Islamists taking over and arguing that our people are not yet qualified to practice democracy.”

Syria is currently ruled by the Allawite minority that only represents 10 to 13 percent of the population. A poll from last year shows that the top issue of the population is political freedom, followed by corruption. Only six percent said that the possibility of war is their top concern, despite the constant beating of the drum by the regime. The desire for freedom and accountability among the population is Assad’s weak point.

It is time for the West to begin supporting the uprising by pressuring Assad. The release of political prisoners should be demanded and their stories recited to the world. The assets of those behind the violence should be frozen and they should be warned of prosecution. The Arab League and other international bodies can be pressured to address the violence and even if they do not, the resulting attention will help energize the opposition.

The U.S. and Europe can call for further sanctions over Syria’s refusal to grant the IAEA access to all of its suspected nuclear sites and its unwillingness to answer questions about the nuclear reactor bombed by the Israelis in 2007. Credible intelligence about the corruption in the regime can be presented, as can information about the influence of Iran on the regime -- such as the possible use of the Revolutionary Guards to attack protesters. If the West wants to get really aggressive, it can supply the Syrian secular opposition with funding and non-violent material aid, as was done in Eastern Europe to help end the Cold War.

It’s time for the West to get realistic about Bashar Assad the “reformer” and the opportunity that exists to at the very least cause him enormous stress, if not bring him down. Syria of 2011 should not become Iran of 2009.