Arab League leaders meeting in Cairo on 12 November suspended Syria from its meetings and urged Arab states to withdraw their ambassadors.
Syria has reneged on an agreement with the League to release prisoners, withdraw the army from the streets and begin a dialogue with the opposition. In part the suspension reflects pressure on Arab leaders to act against Syria. While the Arab League met Syrian protesters chanted outside in front of “body bags” symbolising the 3,500 people killed since the pro-democracy movement erupted onto the streets in March.
However the League — a largely ineffectual club for undemocratic Arab regimes — is mainly acting under the influence of the Saudis. Saudi Arabia is run by autocratic religious bigots, who are no friends of democracy. The Saudis are acting cautiously, for their own strategic reasons, against Syria. The Saudis see blows against Syria as damaging Syria’s ally and their main regional enemy, Iran. However, they are also alarmed by the possible outcome in Syria itself.
The Saudis and Western governments fear that Syria will descend into sectarian civil war, or even break up.
Following the Arab League’s decision mobs attacked the Saudi and Qatari embassies in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Such protests would be impossible without the Syrian state’s authorisation.
Meanwhile, as the Arab leaders met, twelve more protesters were killed in Syria.
Inside the country demands are growing for a Libyan-style No Fly Zone and foreign observers to be placed inside Syrian towns.