March 15 marks the one-year anniversary of the people's uprising against the Syrian regime. In a guest commentary, German politician Ruprecht Polenz outlines what Europe can do to help.
Ruprecht Polenz is chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the German Bundestag.
For months now, terrible reports have been coming out of Syria daily. The events in Homs have developed into a civil war. Will it extend to other parts of the country? Will even more dead join the already over 7,500 victims? Is there the threat of a scenario such as in Lebanon - but worse, because Syria is a much larger country?
The danger this could happen grows with every day that President Bashar al-Assad remains in power. At the moment, it doesn't appear as if the UN special envoy Kofi Annan was successful in his attempt to convince Assad of at least some form of cease-fire. And the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC) has also dismissed the suggestion. The message is clear: there is nothing to discuss with Assad. He has to go.
SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun is convinced that a political solution will only succeed if it is accompanied by military pressure. Meanwhile, calls for a military intervention are getting louder. French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy is drawing parallels to Srebrenica and comparing Homs to Benghazi.
But it is better to further increase the economic and political pressure on the Assad regime. The EU has drastically tightened sanctions. The assets of the Syrian central bank have been frozen; the trade with gold and other precious metals is being prohibited. Another part of this is the landing ban for Syrian freight airplanes and restrictive measures against seven ministers in the Syrian government. The EU will stick to its strategy and impose further sanctions against the regime as long as the repression continues. The Arab League has also decided to increase its economic pressure on Syria.
It is showing an impact. Growing numbers of soldiers are withdrawing their allegiance to Assad, defecting to the opposition or escaping to a neighboring country.
In the meantime, the opposition SNC and the Friends of Syria contact group made up of Arab and western nations are preparing for a post-Assad Syria. How should the future constitution look and who is going to draw it up? How is the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Syria supposed to succeed in living together peacefully?
Already now you can say that the SNC has to be expanded in order to truly stand for the country. There are no representatives of the Kurdish population. And in view of the significance of faith, the major religious communities should be represented with observers. In addition, women should be included more in the discussion about which direction Syria's future is to take.
At the same time, foreign influence must be avoided - despite the necessity of foreign aid, which also rightly led to the foundation of the contact group.
It's easier said than done. After all, Syria's geographical location lies at the interception of practically all conflicts in the Middle East and Gulf region. The side effects of a military intervention and possible chain reactions and complications cannot be predicted, not least because of this network of interests by Syria's neighbors. This aspect should also warn us to be careful. The Syrian conflict is not a Gordian knot and insoluble in its own terms. But the sword is not a sufficient instrument to solve it.
Author: Ruprecht Polenz / sac