The Arab League’s decision to impose economic sanctions on Syria in punishment for its crackdown on anti-government protests has generated extensive comment on both conventional and social media platforms.
Arab press commentators were generally supportive of the decision, and the story was the top headline in three pan-Arab newspapers, with the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat describing the sanctions as an “Arab siege” on the Syrian regime.
A Syrian pro-government daily dismissed the plan as a conspiracy against Damascus. Comment from Iran was scarce, with only a programme on Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam TV channel observed to be discussing the story on Sunday.
Syria’s Tishrin newspaper portrayed Arab League leaders as “oil emirs” who had been trying to destabilise Syria since 2006 in punishment for its support for Hezbollah in the war with Israel. “One cannot rule out that these stances are principally American and Israeli. They are implementing US-Israeli agendas,” it said.
Similar language was used by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Twitter. He said the sanctions will only make Syrians “more resilient to malicious conspiracy”. Mr Moualem had returned to the micro-blogging site after his account was hacked over the weekend and used to falsely announce the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.
London-based pan-Arab newspapers viewed the sanctions as the first step of a process to transfer the crisis to the international community. In an editorial entitled “Arabising the crisis in preparation for internationalising it”, Al-Quds al-Arabi hailed the cooperation between Arab states against Syria, but expressed concern that the impact on the regime would be limited.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat also questioned the effectiveness of the sanctions, saying they would “not deter Al-Assad’s regime nor will they topple it”. It called for the “battle” to be transferred to the UN Security Council.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Watan chose to emphasise that the sanctions were not aimed at ordinary citizens “but at a regime which refuses to listen to the voice of reason and conscience”. Meanwhile the Saudi paper Al-Jazirah highlighted the “strong and active participation of Turkey” in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, which demonstrated the “natural evolution” of Ankara’s standing in world affairs.
The Oman daily newspaper took a similar line, describing the co-ordination between the Arab League and Turkey as “remarkable”. Lebanon’s Al-Mustaqbal asked how President Assad can “dream of leading the Syrian people whom he is slaughtering every day”.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, commentators looked to the future, with some fearing that the ongoing crisis could destabilise Syria and the region. Jordan’s Al-Dustur said the decision “paves the way for foreign intervention which means tearing apart the state and threatening its unity, as well as exposing the security and stability of the whole of the region to danger.”
This theme was echoed in a commentary in the United Arab Emirates’ Al-Ittihad newspaper, which warned of a change to “the regional balance of power stretching from the Gulf, Iran to Lebanon”.
A commentary in Turkey’s Vatan said the Assad regime did “not have much time left”, which poses a problem to its “closest ally” Iran. Milliyet pointed to a global balance-of-power issue which may see the US using the Arab Spring as an “excuse further to strengthen its position in the Middle East”. It said this should be of concern to Russia, which has supported both Syria and Iran, and places Turkey in an awkward position because of its “unhesitant” stance on the crisis.
Syrian Twitter users were generally observed to be calling for more action from the Arab League. Addressing the League, prominent Deraa-based user @Taimhawi wrote: “Your sanctions won’t stop bloodshed, people want: a no-fly zone, isolated zone, expel ambassadors, support Free Syrian Army.” Damascus-based @Sub7ei, a user with over 900 followers, took a similar line, calling on the League to take a firmer position through “recognition of the National Council and explicitly inviting Assad to step down”.
Similar sentiments were conveyed in a cartoon posted to the Jordan-based satirical website Mahjoob which was linked to by a number of Twitter users. In the image, a meat-cleaver-wielding Assad is depicted butchering a corpse while Arab League delegates look on passively.