Two years on, the Syrian revolution in numbers

The original defiance came without malice or forethought. A group of barely pubescent schoolchildren, buoyed by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, bought a can of spray paint. ‘The people want the downfall of the regime,’ they scrawled on the school wall, mimicking the popular slogan of protesters in North Africa. Syria’s already nervous Ba’ath administration would abide no dissent. The boys were arrested and disappeared. Two years ago today protesters mobilised across the country in support of the missing children, marking the start of the Syrian uprising. It was too late. The boys had already perished. And when Assad’s forces opened fire on protesters, many others perished too. The

Assad’s jihad against Syrian rebels, and what it tells us about his regime

Syrian state TV broadcast a remarkable statement last night calling for an ‘Islamic jihad’ against what it termed ‘Zionist saboteurs.’ In doing so, the Baath regime has reneged on one of its supposed deliverances; the maintenance of communal harmony in a society otherwise deeply fractured along sectarian and confessional lines. The statement is telling because of both its content and what it reveals about Assad’s current thinking. It begins by quoting verses from the Quran followed by the citation of Hadith (recorded traditions of the Prophet Mohammed which provide a source of law in normative Sunni Islam). The scriptural references are carefully chosen, emphasising the virtues of loyalty and martyrdom.

What can the international community do to stop Assad using chemical weapons?

Bashar al-Assad is busy writing his suicide note, ordering military officials to prepare the country’s chemical weapons for use. That’s the assessment of Pentagon officials overnight who have detected a flurry of activity at two facilities where these weapons are known to be stored – in al-Safir, on the outskirts of Aleppo; and Furqlus, about 30 miles from the already destroyed city of Homs. The precursor chemicals for Sarin nerve gas, an extremely lethal toxin, have now been loaded into bombs that can be delivered by Syrian aircraft. Sarin was deployed most notoriously by Saddam Hussein who used it to crush a Kurdish uprising in 1988 during the Halabja massacre.

The fall of a dictator

David Cameron made separate phone calls to President Obama and President Hollande this evening to discuss the situation in Syria. In his conversation with Hollande, the Prime Minister discussed how to ‘build on the non-lethal support recently announced by the UK and agreed that France and the UK would work more closely to identify how they could bolster the opposition and help a potential transitional Syrian government after the inevitable fall of Assad,’ a Downing Street spokesperson said. What will that inevitable fall from power look like? In this week’s Spectator, Douglas Murray argues that the International Criminal Court has changed the way dictators let go of power. In the

Our enemy’s enemy

It’s unusual for The Guardian and The Spectator to agree on anything, but Seamus Milne and our own John R Bradley are sceptical about these Syrian rebels whom we’re being invited to support. Bradley was alone in predicting the Egyptian revolution, and argues in today’s magazine that the conventional wisdom is once again wrong. Who’s backing the rebels? The Qataris, keen to depose the last secular regime in the Arab world. And the Saudis and Israelis, whose hatred of Iran eclipses all other considerations: this isn’t about the Syrian people, but about depriving the ayatollahs of an ally. Some in the West also take the view that the enemy’s enemy

Uncertainty reigns in Syria

The Syrian situation is worsening by the day. Now the Arab League has pulled back its monitors in recognition of their failure to ease the violence. Foreign Secretary William Hague has said he is ‘deeply concerned,’ while the Gulf states are pushing for the whole mater to be referred to the UN Security Council. But the chances of a ceasefire and the start of a transition are low. The Russian government is growing tired of Bashar al-Assad but does not want to condone any kind of intervention, which they think is likely if the matter is referred to the UN Security Council. Russia still regrets backing the Libya resolution, believing