Syrian opposition leaders and members of the expatriate community in Cairo welcomed the Arab League's decision on Saturday (November 12th) to suspend Syria's membership.
Activists called it a step toward achieving the Syrian people's demand for change and their desire to build a democratic state that protects the rights and freedom of its citizens.
The Arab League decided during an emergency session of foreign ministers on Saturday to suspend the Syrian government's participation in future Arab League meetings and other relevant bodies. The suspension will take effect November 16th unless Damascus implements the terms of the Arab League Initiative, which it agreed to November 2nd.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister who chairs the special ministerial committee dealing with the Syrian crisis, announced in a joint press conference with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi that the Arab League will impose economic and political sanctions on the Syrian government. The League also advised member countries to suspend their diplomatic missions in Syria but left that decision up to each individual country.
The Arab League also called on the Syrian Army to refrain from killing demonstrators and announced that it is planning to establish an Arab-international mechanism that would protect civilians from violence.
The Arab League invited members of the Syrian opposition to meet in Cairo on Monday with al-Arabi and members of the special ministerial committee dealing with the Syrian crisis to discuss a shared strategy for the upcoming transitional period in Syria.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al- al-Moualem provided an official response to the Arab League's decision Monday when he called the Arab League's decision "illegitimate and illegal". Syrian officials also called for an emergency summit meeting to discuss the decision and ways to avert crisis in Syria.
Al-Moualem said Damascus had planned to end hostilities during Eid al-Adha, "but an escalation in acts of violence prevented that from happening". He also expressed a willingness on the part of the Syrian government to engage in dialogue with the opposition, including expatriates, in Damascus.
According to United Nations figures, 3,500 people have died during demonstrations against the Assad regime since March.
The Syrian government has blamed the unrest on "terrorist" groups and Islamic extremists supported by outside forces. It alleged that 1,100 Syrian soldiers and police were killed in the clashes.
Another Arab League meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for November 16th to discuss the Syrian issue on the sidelines of the Arab-Turkish Forum in Rabat. This meeting, held on the same day as the decision to suspend Syria's membership takes effect, will seek to assess the Syrian regime's level of commitment to implementing the articles proposed by the Arab League Initiative.
The initiative stipulates a halt to all violence against Syrian civilians, a retreat of all military forces and artillery from Syrian cities, the release of detainees who were arrested during the protests that started in March and open media access to Syria. It also calls for a national dialogue between the Syrian regime and all elements of the opposition under the auspices of the Arab League.
Moumin Kuifatieh, a writer and member of the Syrian opposition who lives in Cairo, told Al-Shorfa that the Arab League's decision is "a beginning in the right direction to drop the Assad regime, which is committing crimes against the Syrian people".
He said the decision came very late and "its implementation requires genuine determination to assist the Syrian people in their struggle toward freedom and removal of the Assad regime."
"During this current critical situation, there is a pressing need to bring the Syrian portfolio to the United Nations which should, in turn, demand that the Syrian regime cease killing [its civilians] and also impose a no-fly zone over Syria," Kuifatieh said. He said this would allow the Free Syrian Army, a dissident group which has broken away from the army, to protect civilians and continue with the revolution until the government collapses.
"The Syrian regime is toying with the Arab League and is trying to stall for time in the hope of destroying the revolution. However, that will not happen because the Assad regime is nearing its end with the growing pressure of the revolution that is spreading countrywide," Kuifatieh said.
After the Arab League announced its decision, hundreds of members of the Syrian community in Cairo camped out in front of the Syrian embassy demanding that Yousif al-Ahmed, the Syrian ambassador to Egypt, be expelled and that ties with the Assad regime be permanently severed. Demonstrators also held banners that read, "Another Chance for Assad = More Killing" and "Long Live Syria and Down with Bashar Assad".
"The Arab League has to listen to the Syrian people and rescue scores of people being killed on a daily basis just because they demand change and justice," said Sulaiman Mundhir, a young Syrian living in Cairo.
Hundreds of Syrians have protested in front of Arab League headquarters since mid-October to put pressure on the organisation to suspend Syria's membership and bring the issue to the United Nations.
Political analysts say that providing safety for Syrian civilians is the Arab League's primary concern after suspension of Syria's membership because some believe the Assad regime will not end the violence against demonstrators.
Dr. Imad Jad, a political analyst with the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Shorfa that the Arab League's decision is "a step toward more stringent measures because it is unlikely that Assad will co-operate with the Arab League's decision, which will eventually lead to his isolation in the Arab region".
He said isolation of the Assad regime may lead to international intervention in Syria because that would be the only option facing the Arab and international communities.
"If the Syrian regime complies with the Arab League's demands, then intervention will be highly unlikely because it is an unfavourable option to begin with among many Arab countries," Jad said. "Moreover, international powers have not yet expressed willingness for military intervention in Syria as was the case in Libya."