Anwar al-Bunni

Lost in the flood of ink spilled these past few weeks over Iran is an increasingly brazen crackdown of dissent by the Assad regime in Syria. The most egregious example is the detention of Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent lawyer and advocate of political reform. A few months ago he opened an EU-sponsored human rights center in Damascus that was quickly shut down by the authorities.

The precipitating event that seems to have fueled that recent crackdown is the release of the Damascus-Beirut Declaration on May 12. The document takes several position at odds to the Assad government. For instance, the declaration insists on "the need for Syria to recognize Lebanese independence once and for all [and] the removal of any reservation and equivocation on this issue." Anwar al-Bunni signed the Declaration.

According to Syria Monitor, a vigilant source for news about the Syrian opposition movement, Anwar al-Bunni's health is deteriorating because of a hunger strike he began at the time of his arrest on May 16.

The Council on Foreign Relations has a very thorough rundown of the political currents running through Damascus. The picture is rather grim. Various experts are quoted in this report, but shared assumption is that the difficulties in Iraq and the sense of immediacy regarding the threat from Iran has freed Assad's hand to crackdown aggressively on all threats to Baathist rule. "The Syrian government made a fairly astute calculation that with Iran on top of the international agenda and the United States mired in Iraq, the chances of coordinated international action against Syria are quite small," says Mona Yacoubian of the United States Institute of Peace.

– ERG

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