Syria – Observations as the uprising unfolds

13th June: What seemed to have been the most probable outcome of Assad restoring the regime’s control has been thrown into doubt by the astonishing bravery of the Syrian people.

The events of the past month shows just how easy it is for dictators to miscalculate. Driven by the belief of their own infallibility, they can become too confident in the tools and methods of repression and their own judgement. The regime is now reduced to vacillating between concessions and brutal attacks on the population.

Assad offered concessions including the lifting the state of emergency and an amnesty to those arrested up to 30th May.

When the masses rejected all offers with contempt, correctly seeing them as meaningless and as a play for time, Assad switched to extreme violence.

Assad’s regime used the horrific torture of a 13 year old boy  to send a warning to mothers to discourage their children from protesting. Arbitrary and random arrests and torture are employed against the population to create an atmosphere of terror.

Villages and towns that resist are subject to the wrath of army who attack with tanks and helicopters.

Assad’s regime has turned a blind eye to protests in the Golan Heights hoping they would distract attention away from the regime. After having complained that Syria was trying to direct the ire of protesters towards it by provoking a confrontation with Syrians on the Golan Heights, Israel responded by… killing protesters! Their reaction shows the stupidity that characterises the modern Israeli elite.

Their blunder with the Golan Heights protest is just a continuation of other blunders, such as the 2006 Lebanon War. This shows that Israel’s political elite have degenerated into the one trick pony of violent re-action. Worse still, some elements such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, wear their stupidity and brashness as a badge of honour.

The west has responded with its usual cynicism. They have limited themselves to calls to end the violence and racketing up sanctions against individuals of the regime. There is virtually no prospect of western military intervention on several grounds:

  • There is no desire from ordinary Syrians for intervention. In fact quite the opposite, they are openly hostile to the idea
  • Syria is far larger militarily than Libya, so far NATO have spent over three months trying to defeat the much more inferior and fragmented forces of Gaddafi
  • Syria, is strategically more important than Libya, it’s disintegration would risk infecting the whole region including the west’s allies
  • The west, unlike with Libya, would not get a free pass from Russia and China to intervene in Syria

The west, along with Israel, would undoubtedly welcome the fall of Assad but not at the price of instability in the region.

This explains the apparent contradiction in the west’s approach between Libya and Bahrain, Libya and Syria etc. For the west, the issue is not a moral one, but what is in their best material interest. When looked at from this view point, the policy of the west towards the Arab uprisings has been entirely consistent.

The tactics of the Syrian regime have descended to new brutal depths. The pro-democracy movement still suffers the flaws of fragmented leadership which gives an advantage to Assad’s campaign to remain in power. However, victory for the Syrian regime is still some way from being assured.

25th April: Bashir Assad in ordering the mass slaughter of protesters over the weekend has decided on a final showdown. Over a hundred have been killed in the last few days alone. All the major cities from Latakia, Baniyas, Aleppo, Homs to Damascus have been rocked by calls for the regime to fall. The epicentre of the protests Daraa, has received merciless treatment, snipers shooting at unarmed people to prevent them collecting and burying their dead. Today, 25th April, the Syrian Army has invaded cities and towns across Syria in a government crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.

The Syrian political and military elites, unlike their Libyan and Yemen counterparts, have suffered very little in terms of splits and defections and are still in a strong position. The protesters suffer the disadvantage of an organisation to co-ordinate nationally to counter the Assad strategy. It does seem likely that these two factors will help the Syrian authorities succeed in putting down the protests.

Though Bashir Assad may succeed in defeating the protest movement, the cost will be high. Assad’s regime will be weaker for its victory, its legitimacy will be undermined and its aura of invincibility shattered. Time may show that this is not the end of the uprising but just the first episode.

*Since the time of writing, activists have expressed doubts that Assad will be toppled, citing factors that appear to back up the analysis above.

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