Canada Urges Citizens To Evacuate Syria
OTTAWA - Canada isn't worried — yet — about the success of Islamist parties in post-Arab Spring elections in some North African and Middle East countries.
"We'll judge them by the actions they take, not the reputations they bring," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Thursday after making a renewed appeal urging Canadians to get out of Syria while they still can as violence there continues to escalate.
The regime of President Bashar Assad's regime "has lost all legitimacy and its abhorrent behaviour will not be tolerated," Baird said, echoing other allies in saying the Syrian regime's days are numbered.
But the minister declined to say how he sees a post-Assad Syria taking shape.
"Obviously we want to see Assad and his regime go. We want to see it replaced with something better."
The early electoral success of Islamist political parties in the recent elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, as well as rumblings of the imposition of Sharia law in Libya, have raised concerns that the Arab Spring overthrow of dictators might give way to a so-called Islamist Winter of fundamentalist rule.
Canada is still figuring out how it will contribute to the democracy-building exercises now taking place in the region, where secular political parties are not having great success at the ballot box.
The politically-sophisticated Muslim Brotherhood surprised few by winning the most seats in Egypt's first round of parliamentary voting last month. But the strong second-place showing by the Nour party, which ran on a puritanical Salafist platform, has raised more eyebrows.
In Tunisia, the moderate Islamist Nahda party prevailed as did another Islamist party in Morocco.
Baird pointed to "some positive movements in Tunisia," "great reforms in Morroco" and efforts by King Abdullah II to speed up changes in Jordon.
"I think we're in a wait-and-see posture but also wanting to offer as much support as we can for democratic development and the promotion of freedom and basic human rights, which we'll continue to do across the region," said the minister.
Baird didn't touch the unfolding situation Egypt, where secular liberals are worried that an Islamist parliament is in the process of being created, which could lead to a religious fundamentalist society.
Ed Husain, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood "the mothership of all Islamist movements."
"The movement now stands on the point of sharing power in Egypt and shaping the future of the country and the wider region," Husain wrote Thursday in a blog posting.
"We should not fear the march of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is far removed from al-Qaida and the supporters of violent jihad," he added.
"Despite dreaming of recreating the Caliphate, a state encompassing all the Islamic world, the Brotherhood is deeply pragmatic. It is not about to plunge Egypt into a theocracy where adulterers are stoned and women swathed in burkas."
Syria's could be the next government to fall.
Baird said sanctions imposed by the Arab League will have a significant impact on air transport to and from Syria. He warned Canadians in the country they will have an increasingly difficult time making travel arrangements as the security situation deteriorates.
It is becoming hard for Canadian diplomats and consular officials to do their jobs under restrictions imposed by Assad, said the minister, and he hinted broadly that Canada's embassy could be closed if the situation worsens.
"These actions are meant to assist Canadians now so that they are not put in a position in the future where our capacity could be very reduced without warning," he said.
Foreign Affairs estimates there are more than 5,000 Canadians in Syria, but only 1,500 are registered with the department. Many are dual Syrian-Canadian nationals, officials said.
More than 5,000 Syrian citizens have been killed and "thousands and thousands and thousands" more injured in the country's popular uprising against Assad's authoritarian regime, Baird said.
Unlike the international military mission to support Libyan rebels, Baird said Canada isn't planning any military intervention in Syria. He said he was frustrated with the United Nations Security Council.
"If we can't get a condemnation — just a condemnation of the fact that this man has butchered 5,000 of his people — it's a very sad day for the United Nations."
Baird said the Canadian embassy in Damascus would be available to assist Canadians in Syria, as well as their spouses and their dependent children, with travel documents and visas until Jan. 14, 2012.
A U.S. State Department official told Congress this week that Assad's repression may allow him to hang on to power, but only for a short time.
The regime is growing more isolated for its bloody crackdown that has mostly targeted unarmed, peaceful protesters.
Human Rights Watch alleges that dozens of Syrian military commanders and officials authorized or gave direct orders for widespread killings, torture, and illegal arrests during the wave of anti-government protests.
Assad's regime has sealed off the country to most outsiders while claiming that the uprising is the work of foreign extremists, not true reform-seekers.
The United Nations and other observers dismiss such claims entirely, blaming the regime for widespread killings, rape and torture.
Witnesses inside Syria describe brutal repression as routine, with government forces firing on unarmed protesters and conducting house-to-house raids in which families are dragged from their homes in the night.
Earlier this week, Canadian oil giant Suncor Energy Inc. suspended its operations in Syria after economic sanctions against Assad's regime were imposed.