Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Syrian people are entitled to a new era

East Meredith, NW 

The Assad dynasty in Syria has miscalculated by applying brutal force to try to stop the five-month ongoing uprising. The regime is rapidly losing the opportunity to restore law and order. The resilient opposition seems to have the potential to outmaneuver the current regime, not the reverse.

After four decades of power abuse in Syria, climaxing in brutal attempts to crush a national rebellion, the rulers in Damascus are vulnerable, morally and politically. It is hard to imagine how the Assad family could continue much longer to hold on to power, regardless of how effective the opposition will prove to be.

When Hafez al Assad passed away in the year 2000, his people expected change. Syrians saw in his departure a historic opportunity to replace a family-based, party-controlled and minority-dominated, police state. This was the first missed opportunity.

Indeed Assad left Syria, but not his system. When Bashar Al Assad replaced his father at the helm, he felt entitled to the continuity of rule, as if he were the royal heir apparent.

Facing an environment of intimidation, the people of Syria had learned to swallow their pride. They had no choice but to hope that Bashar Al Assad, the eye doctor, would have 20/20 vision, and he would introduce change.

To the people’s dismay, the son followed in the steps of his father. To be fair, Bashar initially tried to introduce change, but he was unable to transform a system which was too deep in corruption. A second opportunity was missed: A decade had passed with no adequate reform.

The eruption of the Arab Spring in early 2011 challenged Syria as well as other Arab nations. Arab awakening provided a third opportunity for the Assad regime to reform. Regretfully, Bashar failed to read the signs of the times. Syria was an exception, he claimed.

Frustrated, the people took to the street to express a genuine desire for freedom. Public demonstrations offended the tyrants of Damascus. The Syrian rulers have chosen to punish the uprising with severity: Twenty five hundred people, mostly protestors, have been killed so far, and thousands are in jail. Syria is heading toward paralysis, as the economy is hemorrhaging, the rebellion is expanding and international sanctions are tightening. Last week several Arab countries criticized Damascus for its handling of the revolt. The UN Security Council recently issued a presidential statement of rebuke to Syria.

It is hard to know how long the rulers of Damascus will be able to project their own problems on the people they have failed. The Syrian regime is not likely to resist much longer as the uprising expands and external pressure mounts.

In Syria, unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, the army is deeply loyal to the ruler, not withstanding reports of some defections. The Assad family, leading figures in the military, key security agents and elite business figures are closely connected. Together they are fighting for their survival.

No one knows if conflict of interest between the military and the Assad family will emerge as the situation deteriorates further. It might help if leaders of the uprising would hint that the new Syria they are calling for will focus on reconciliation rather than on revenge in future state building.

As the chances of political survival for the Assad regime decline in the face of a resilient opposition, doom and gloom forecasts about the Syrian rebellion may have softened. Still there are serious risks to the Arab Spring in Syria as well as elsewhere.

The moral bankruptcy of the Syrian regime should not mask the risks in rebuilding Syria. The list of worries about post-Assad Syria is long.

There is concern about absence of strong leadership to take over from the Assad regime.  There is fear of civil war among rival ideological, ethnic and sectarian factions within society. There is anticipation of revenge against the ruling Alawite minority community. Will there be a Sunni fundamentalist backlash against the Christian minorities in Syria and Lebanon? There is worry about instability in Lebanon and Israel. There is concern about the economy if the future rulers of Damascus turn out to be ideologically hostile to free enterprise. There is suspicion that Israel is keen to exploit a possible meltdown in Syria. And finally, there is fear that the US may intervene covertly to turn the new Syria into a Washington client-state, to be seduced by foreign aid.

More things could go wrong, but the reality is that the aspirations of the Syrian people are not likely to be suppressed any longer.

Anticipating a worst case scenario in the Syrian rebellion may be the result of a defensive misperception. There is no compelling reason to assume that Syrian rebels are self destructive. Syrians are entitled to experiment with political change at their own pace, with their own means and without regional or international interference. Regardless of the consequences, Syrians deserve to be able to change a regime which has run out of legitimacy.


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