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Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012
Islamic nations signal dismay
The tide of international opinion continues to turn against Syria. Last week the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) suspended the country's membership. This is an important development as it deepens the isolation of the Damascus government within its own region.
Yet, Syrian President Bashar Assad retains the support of important allies, most significantly Iran, and that will enable him to fight on, indifferent to the human cost of that struggle.
The OIC decision was expected. The meeting was hosted by Saudi Arabia, a government that has backed efforts to isolate Syria and has called for arming the rebels.
Riyadh's position is grounded in power politics along with a healthy dollop of religious antagonism. Saudi Arabia is dominated by Sunni Muslims and has an enduring and smoldering rivalry with Iran, a predominately Shiite nation.
Iran is Mr. Assad's strongest ally in the region and sees his government as a powerful source of support and leverage in regional politics. As long as that assessment persists, Tehran will stand behind Mr. Assad.
Nevertheless, the OIC decision is important. The organization represents 1.5 billion Muslims around the world and while it is not tantamount to taking sides — OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu noted that there was not much support for external military intervention in Syria — the vote is "a message to the international community ... that the Islamic community stands with a politically peaceful solution and does not want any more bloodshed."
Following the Arab League's decision last year to suspend Syria's membership in that group, the message to the world is unmistakable: Peaceful reconciliation is Syria's only future. Pressure must be put on Mr. Assad to make him recognize that there is no alternative to a diplomatic resolution.
The rebels must be held to the same standard; indeed, holding them accountable is critical to establishing a credible peace process.
The West must enforce that standard and then demand that others — particularly, Russia and China — do the same. Only then is there hope for a real resolution to Syria's crisis.