As the Syrian regime continues to kill protestors, events in Libya are conspiring to make life a bit more difficult for President Assad and his government.
Syria exports about 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day, or at least, it did until European Union sanctions were imposed last month. In the scheme of things, that isn't very much, but it represents about 25% of the country's earnings denominated in foreign currencies. Virtually all of it was bought by EU-based customers, so the Syrians are looking for alternative purchasers.
And that search is made more difficult by the resumption of exports from Libya, expected next month. Oil prices are expected to fall back, making Syrian oil less attractive, especially once the costs of insurance are factored in. Indeed, given that the Transitional National Council in Tripoli have been openly admitting that they will be favouring those nations that supported their quest to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, it might be seen as risky to gamble on an open show of support for the Assad regime. And the option to retain oil pending the arrival of a customer is limited by Syria's storage capacity, which is now almost entirely utilised.
With the Syrian economy now thought to be on the verge of recession, the question is, how long can the regime continue to arm its military, and at what point does the military leadership start looking for a way out?
Meanwhile, a worrying pattern is beginning to emerge, with a number of leading Syrian academics being assassinated in Homs, a hotbed of dissent against the regime. In 2003, a similar wave of killings in Iraq, targeted at doctors, academics and scientists, led to a rush for the exit, and impoverished Iraq. Here, one suspects that the regime is trying to discourage the emergence of potential opposition leaders. The effect might well be the same though, as high profile figures decide that they are safer somewhere else.