The Syrian Problem

02/10/2011 15:59 BST | Updated 02/12/2011 10:12 GMT

"February 11 was the culmination of the Arab revolution. On February 12, the counterrevolution began." This is how two Middle East experts - the Palestinian Oxford don, Hussein Agha, and the Washington political scientist, Robert Malley - are summing up the situation in the latest edition of the New York Review of Books. The spontaneous uprising of the discontented in Cairo appears to have swept away the dictator seemingly effortlessly but the old structures of army, police and secret service are still in place and threaten to continue an only marginally relaxed, autocratic regime with the help of the multifaceted Muslim Brotherhood. Even in Libya, where the dictator will fall, the rebels cannot be seen as true democrats and power struggles lie ahead.

There may be tendencies in Iraq, Bahrain and most of all Saudi Arabia to relax the rigid regime. Thus Saudi Arabia gave women the right to vote for the first time. However, all these reforms do not constitute fundamental transformation.

A rancorous ruler fights for his survival in Yemen. In Syria the counter-revolution is at full blast. The brutality of the Assad clan has reached a gruesome climax. Two eyewitnesses of the massacres in Daraa and Homs told me about excesses the likes of which have not been seen since the most terrible phases of the Nazi era. Thus the young and old in the torture chambers are shown around the mortuary first and forced to look at tortured and mutilated victims as a warning example. The myth of the young, modern presidential couple that is willing to reform, which is disseminated by Western media agencies and American fashion magazines, is a bizarre lie because Bashar Assad and his brother Maher are personally responsible for the brutal oppression of any kind of freedom movements in this dark dictatorship.

The free world is slowly beginning to deal seriously with the Syrian problem. Now that the United States' military is involved in Afghanistan, Iraq and, at the sidelines, in Libya, the White House is reluctant to also get involved in Syria. Turkey, which is seeking to play the hegemon in the Middle East, sees itself as protector of her Syrian neighbour. However, in spite of a strong showing in Damascus, the Turkish leaders have so far managed to avoid endorsement of heavy sanctions, let alone military intervention, against Assad's tyranny.

Israel is keeping out of the situation and does not want to get directly involved in internal Arab conflicts. Israel's arch enemy resides in Teheran. Assad's overthrow would automatically destroy Iran's influence in Syria and the long-suffering Lebanon. A regime change in Syria could trigger a dangerous religious civil war between Sunnis and Shiites and spread to the neighbouring Iraq.

Considering the unsolved problem of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians also means that the democratic world, the Atlantic alliance and the European Union are faced with a highly dangerous political crisis added to the contractions of a sick world economy.