Majority Arabs, Turks Opposes Arming Syria’s Rebels

A poll shows most neighboring peoples are skeptical of arming the rebels in Syria.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in Moscow, Russia, January 25, 2005
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in Moscow, Russia, January 25, 2005 (AFP/Getty Images)

With lawmakers in the United States pushing President Barack Obama into providing military support to the Syrian opposition and Israel striking targets in the vicinity of the capital Damascus, commentators are predicting that the civil war in Syria may be entering a new stage with greater foreign involvement.

Fortunately for the Obama Administration, which has been put into an uncomfortable position since suspected chemical weapons use in Syria crossed the president’s “red line,” a vast majority of people both in the Middle East and the United States does not believe that foreign intervention would be a wise course of action.

Indeed, while many Middle Easterners fear that the violence in Syria could affect their own societies, a majority of them in five of the six countries recently surveyed by the Pew Research Center oppose sending rebels to the rebels who are trying to end the Assad regime.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the poll is that while Bashar Assad is an extremely unpopular figure in the region, with the exception of Shia in neighboring Lebanon, the Arab and Turkish public does not want their governments, or any government, to get more involved on the ground. 80 percent of Lebanese, 68 percent of Turks, 63 percent of Palestinians, 60 percent of Tunisians and 59 percent of Egyptians is dead set against Western military support for the Syrian opposition.

As a rule, Arabs are not particularly supportive of Western interference in their internal or regional affairs so the numbers may not be that surprising. What is interesting is that the Arabs polled are equally opposed to their own governments providing weapons to Syrian insurgents: 66 percent of Turks, 60 percent of Lebanese, 57 percent of Egyptians, 55 percent of Tunisians and 53 of Palestinians.

The only Arabs who defy the trend are the Jordanians, the majority of whom are in favor of sending lethal supplies to the rebels regardless of who sends them.

Unfortunately, Pew was unable to survey the citizens of those nations who are suspected of giving ammunition and arms to the Free Syrian Army: Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Given the escalating death toll in Syria and news of the Assad regime’s ethnic cleansing of Sunni villages in the Alawite coastal heartland, it can only be assumed that the Gulf Arabs agree with what their own governments are doing.

The civil war in Syria is often portrayed in the media as one of the most perplexing international security issues that Western nations face today. While this is undoubtedly accurate, the findings by Pew reveal that the Syria problem is as perplexing to Arabs as it is to Americans and Europeans. Assad may be the bad guy and his regime is certainly the most hated in the region today yet the massive casualties that his army is leveling on the Syrian people remains unpersuasive for many Arabs to actively assist in his downfall.

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