BEIRUT (Reuters)” - The downfall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is likely to pave the way for increased Western attention to Syria and embolden protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
The implosion of Gaddafi’s rule after six months of civil war in which the rebels benefited from sanctions on Gaddafi, a no-fly zone and NATO air strikes may have implications for Syri’s six-month-old revolt and Assad’s efforts to crush it.
“The international community will now think that its strong intervention in the struggle (in Syria) will resolve the situation,” said opposition figure Louay Hussein.
“Libya has raised the morale of the West and it will have a bigger excuse to intervene. But we reject any military action in Syria.”
Hussein and other opposition activists said however the events in Tripoli would revive Syrian protesters’ hopes.
“What happened in Libya means a lot for us, it means that the Arab spring is coming without doubt ... there is no solution to any problem without the will of the people,” said Michel Kilo, a prominent opposition figure.
No country has proposed the kind of action in Syria which NATO forces have carried out in Libya. But the West has called on Assad to step down and Washington has imposed new sanctions over his crackdown, in which the United Nations says 2,200 civilians have died.
Syria has an alliance with Iran and a key role in Lebanon, despite ending a 29-year military presence there in 2005. It also has influence in Iraq and supports militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
Assad on Sunday said Syria would not bow to external pressure, which he said could only affect “a president made in the United States and a subservient people who get their orders from outside.”
“As for the threat of a military action ... any action against Syria will have greater consequences (on those who carry it out), greater than they can tolerate,” he said.
Assad has responded to the unrest with a mixture of reforms and force. He granted citizenship to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds, ended a state of emergency and promised to let groups other than his Baath party run in elections.
Analysts and opposition figures said they expected the situation in Syria to deteriorate further, with authorities intensifying the crackdown and protesters not backing down.
“After what happened in Libya I think he (Assad) will be tougher with the security option he is taking,” Boumonsef said.
“He sees what (he calls) the international conspiracy on him will be stronger and now that Gaddafi is out of the way it will move toward him in full strength ... This is imminent.”
Some opposition figures expressed fears that Libya’s endgame might encourage voices among the opposition calling for the arming of a hitherto largely peaceful movement in Syria.
“I fear that some in the opposition who are in a hurry to end the regime, who we have always warned against repeating the Libyan example, will say now it has been successful and resort to arms,” said Hussein, who was detained during the uprising.
“But we will resist such proposals, regardless of where they are coming from.”
The anti-Assad movement is fragmented. “Despite everything that is happening, the opposition remains stuck over little issues like personal issues between its leaders,” Kilo said.
Boumonsef said it would try harder, with international help, to unify.
“The opposition will be motivated more. There is no return and (Assad’s) reforms will not stop anything. It is too late.”
Encouraged after Western leaders called on Assad to step down, Syrian opposition figures are holding talks in Istanbul to nominate a broad-based council that could aid in a transition of power if Assad is toppled.
Unlike previous opposition conferences, which were marked by divisions between Islamists and liberals, participants said there was broad agreement on 120 nominees for the council from inside and outside Syria.
The council would speak for dissidents in exile and activists on the ground, opposition figures told Reuters.
But some poured cold water on the idea. “There is no interest inside Syria in a conference happening outside because the public opinion and those inside Syria believe that what is happening outside is marginal,” Kilo said.
“We do not need a transitional council ... the real challenge is not what should be done after the regime collapses but for us it is what should be done every day so that we remain standing.”
Reporting by Mariam Karouny; editing by Andrew Roche