The decision by the Arab League to formally suspend Syria marks a new chapter in the Syrian resistance and the 2011 Arab revolts. Historically, Syria — with its ancient cities of Damascus and Aleppo and its recent pan-Arabism — regards itself as one of the core regions in the Arab world.
It was thus easy for businessmen and professionals in Syria to feel that in supporting the Assad regime they were supporting a key Arab state, despite its rulers being run by a somewhat heterodox Alawite sect. This in turn allowed Bashar al-Assad to depict protestors against his regime as traitorous outsiders or dangerous extremists.
This action by the Arab League will call the legitimacy of Assad’s regime into question throughout Syria as well as the wider Arab world. It will encourage Europe and other nations to adopt the strongest possible sanctions against the regime — and make it more difficult for Russia and China to veto UN sanctions. It will likely increase the flow of both military defections and key officials and business elites shifting their support away from Assad.
This formal denunciation, to be followed by discussions of how to protect Syrian civilians, will put Bashar on the defensive, and offer enormous moral support to the courageous Syrian opposition. Whether any kind of intervention will follow — from providing shelter for refugee or opposition groups on the borders, or even more direct intervention to separate civilians from assault by armor or air — is still quite uncertain. But as with Libya, the action of the Arab League starts a process of isolating and deligitimizing the Syrian regime. And that process, once begun, is likely to continue to its logical conclusion, which will be a regime change.