Arab League Intervenes as Syrian Uprising on Verge of Civil War

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Posted Dec. 21, 2011

Interview with Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, conducted by Scott Harris


Like many of its neighbors throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Syrians took to the streets last March, demanding political and economic reforms from the nation’s authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad. The United Nations estimates that 5,000 civilians have been killed in a brutal government crackdown that continues to escalate. In reaction to the rising violence and the very real possibility of a civil war, the Arab League attempted to intervene in early November. Although President Assad agreed in principle to the League proposal to send monitors into his country and begin negotiations with the opposition, he delayed signing the accord until December 19th.

With the signing of the Arab League initiative the Syrian government has publicly committed to withdrawing troops from major cities, the release of political prisoners and to begin a dialogue with opposition groups. But Syrian pro-democracy activists have expressed skepticism that Assad's government will abide by the plan.

Defectors from the Syrian armed forces and others opposed to the regime have in recent weeks formed what they call the Free Syrian Army, that has initiated attacks on troops loyal to President Assad. The government in Damascus has long claimed that the violence in Syria has been provoked by "armed terrorist gangs,” that they say are supported from outside the country. The U.S. and European Union have imposed economic sanctions on Syria, which along with the unrest has severely weakened the economy. Between the Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, who assesses the worsening violence in Syria and prospects for the Arab League intervention to prevent a civil war.

Joshua Landis is also editor of the online newsletter “Syria Comment.” Find links to Landis’ articles covering current events in Syria at

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