Monday, September 01, 2014


Features

Could The New 'Age Of Rage' Sweep Syria?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (right) took over from his father Hafez in 2000.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (right) took over from his father Hafez in 2000.
By Robert Tait
Hermetically sealed from Western influence, alienated from the United States, and still technically at war with Israel, Syria is the great unknown in the contagion of rage spreading across the Middle East.

Its alliance with Iran and anti-American orientation distinguish it from Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab countries -- now including Jordan and Yemen -- afflicted by the wave of popular unrest that threatens to transform the political landscape of one of the world's most volatile regions.

But that has not stopped opposition movements from trying to organize "Day of Rage" protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime modeled on those staged in neighboring countries. Protest groups have reportedly been using social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to sign up participants for demonstrations in the capital, Damascus, and other cities on February 4 and 5.

With King Abdullah in neighboring Jordan firing his government and President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen following Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's lead by vowing to step down in 2013 -- all in response to mass demonstrations -- pro-democracy advocates hope that Assad will be next down in a regional domino process.

It does not seem an unreasonable expectation. Superficially, Syria shares many of the hallmarks of its neighbors; relatively poor, repressive, undemocratic and with a leader who inherited power after his father, Hafez al-Assad, died in 2000 after 30 years in charge -- identical, some say, to how Mubarak planned to pass the reins to his son Gamal after a similar period at the helm.

Yet such parallels may be misleading. Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East studies at the London School of Economics, says Syria has vital differences with Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, that make it less susceptible to the current spirit of revolt:

Much Smaller Society

"Syria is a different country than Egypt," Gerges says. "First of all, it's a much smaller society than Egypt. The level of poverty is on a lesser scale. It's fragmented along sectarian lines as opposed to social and ideological lines. And it is a very repressive society, so in this particular sense, even though anything is possible these days, I don't expect Syria to experience a similar process of social upheaval to that of Tunisia and Egypt."

Assad told "The Wall Street Journal" on January 31 that his regime was immune from the rage because, unlike countries affected thus far, it reflected popular hostility to the United States and Israel, with which Syria is at odds over ownership of the Golan Heights. "Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people," Assad said. "This is the core issue. When you diverge ... you will have this problem, this vacuum that creates disturbances."

That, however, seems an eccentric reading of the causes of the recent upheavals, which have exhibited few signs of overt anti-Americanism or pro-Palestinian solidarity. Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, interprets it as the sign of a discomfited leader unsure what to expect in a feverish political climate.

"It's obvious that President Bashar al-Assad is very concerned about this," Shehadi says. "He's sort of in denial and he is saying that this cannot happen in Syria because Syria is anti-American and anti-Israeli.... [But] we've never seen any signs of that. People seem to be talking more about ending autocratic regimes and about freedom."

Yet, Gerges says, the Syrian president may have been hinting -- with good reason -- more at the greater brutality and control of his security forces, which may be relied upon to ruthlessly suppress any challenge to the ruling Ba'ath Party and keep a lid on Syria's simmering domestic tensions.

'Security Forces In Control'

"I think what he's trying to say is that his security forces are in control. He made it very clear that there is no cleavage between the security apparatus, the government, and the people because of foreign policy," Gerges says. "He said many Syrian people view his regime as legitimate. But there are many cleavages in Syria. Syria is not democratic. Syria is an authoritarian state. I would argue that the Syrian security apparatus would fight all the way, to the last man, to defend the regime because of the communal nature of Syrian society. It is deeply divided along Sunni-Alawite terms."

The specter of a merciless crackdown against any display of public dissent has echoes in the bloody suppression by Assad's father of a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired uprising in the town of Hama in 1982, in which an estimated 25,000 were killed.

The Syrian security apparatus, analysts say, is more repressive than those of its neighbors, resembling the brutal domestic intelligence services deployed by former communist states like East Germany and Romania during the Cold War. As a result, civil society and an opposition press -- which have survived in Egypt despite the close attentions of the Mubarak regime -- are virtually absent in Syria.

'No Vibrant Opposition'

"Even though many Syrians would tell you that they would like to live in a democracy, there is no vibrant opposition along similar lines to that of Egypt," Gerges says. "There is no vibrant civil society like that of Egypt. There is hardly any free press whatsoever in Syria. There are no free associations like there are in Egypt -- attorneys, engineers, doctors, what have you."

Shehadi agrees that it may be simplistic to expect Syria to fall like a domino, comparing it more to Saddam Hussein's Iraq than to Egypt. But while Egyptians may draw strength from an active if restricted opposition, he says he believes the continuing ripples from the overthrow of Saddam's regime following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 may have stripped Assad's government of its once-invincible aura -- rendering it vulnerable over a longer period:

"I wouldn't invest long-term in Syria at the moment," Shehadi says. "You have a very solid-looking regime which will look very strong and even look stronger when there is opposition because the stronger it gets the more oppressive it will get. [But] the appearances are very misleading and because it cannot bend it can only collapse. It's so unpredictable. I wouldn't bet on it."
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Syrian from: Syria
February 02, 2011 17:33
Iam Syrian who has lived all his life in Syria .. what drives me crazy is u guys trying to ruin our country ..we love our president ..we love him ..i am proud of having him as my president u will ask me why??
Before he came to powe we had no Internet ..no pivate tvs nor private radio stations ..no pirvate banking system .. Now we have everything
He managed to do all this although we were under siege ..I do not need to remind u how many times we were threatened by forces that I do not want to mention
You will answer me there is political democracy ..and I will answer who cares about politics ..go and check ur records ..we are one of the most free countries in the middle east ..muslims and Christians are living freely ..every one is allowed to do whatever he wants ..show me 1 country in the middle east where everyone is equal ..no one is differenciated based on race .. Religion .. So pls stop saying we do not like him .u r mistaken we love him we love him
In Response

by: Freedom from: Syria
February 03, 2011 00:37
It's funny how stupid the Syrian moukhabarat dogs are! glad you learned how to use the internet to show the whole world how stupid you guys are.

I quote "Before he came to powe we had no Internet ..no pivate tvs nor private radio stations ..no pirvate banking system .. Now we have everything "

Well, they ran out of investments and felt the need to steal more money , I completely agree with you, we do have something similar to private TV,internet,private radio stations and ofcourse PRIVATE BANKING.
I'll just mention one name in here "Rami makhlouf" sounds familiar to you?

You really also need to define "private".
---------
"He managed to do all this although we were under siege ..I do not need to remind u how many times we were threatened by forces that I do not want to mention "

Your brain is under siege and that's about it... Please do mention those "forces" ?
------
"You will answer me there is political democracy ..and I will answer who cares about politics"

Obviously you do for "some reason", otherwise you wouldn't bother to read this and post a reply .
In Response

by: Johann from: USA
February 03, 2011 01:00
Syria doesn't have the Muslim Brotherhood, or any radical Islamic movement,waiting on the sidelines to grab power.
Syria is still at war with Israel.
Syria has friendly relationship with Russia.
Russia is building a huge navy base in Syria.
Christians live safely in Syria, but not in Egypt and Irak.
Christians are much better off in Syria, than in Irak.
Even Jews, are well of in Syria.
Syria is not like Afghanistan, a fundamentalism Islamic country.
Women in Syria doesn't have to wear Muslim clothing.
So, Syria is quite, a different country from Egypt.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
February 04, 2011 04:33
Russians build not only a base in Siria.
They sent there archeologist with German name.
Blessed by Her Magtesty? He trying to place "Palestinians"
Into an old excavation origins - to give pseudo-Palestinians game?
As Hisbala-Nasrala Chaldean half-Neanderthals took over
Jordan, Gasa, Vest bank and soon'll take the Libanon,
They aim for Syria too? To create new Babilon?
Steal again bulat - Russia imperio-biver?
In Response

by: ahman from: syria
February 04, 2011 12:11
Hi there,
with all due respect, but all what you are saying is not exacte. most syrians don't like Bashar and his gov members. simply because they work with their own strict interest.. all what you mentioned "privitatization mov" have happened in all other arabic countries. syria is the last arabic country to have stock market and a private banking.. I am syrian and I have studied economics.. The current regime is fachist for these reasons :
1- No free speech. No free media
2- No rights for syrian kurds.. More than 200,000 kurds are born in syrian and the gov still refuses to give them the nationality..
3- The kurds don't have the right to learn kurdish language ..
4- NO investor have the right to open language teching center to teach kurdish
5- The regieme commited more than 10 genocides.. The most known one is hama genocide where 40,000 civilians died..
STOP acting as a blind and open your EVEs wide open.
Love for my country syria and FREEdom of syria from the nasty current regime
In Response

by: joel from: usa
February 05, 2011 00:01
My Dear Kurdesh friend,
Look what happened to Kurds in Iraq and Turky, Syria seems to be the only country in the region that helped the Kurds integrate into Syrian society. Not that it is perfect situation for you, but much better than other places.

by: ahmad
February 02, 2011 18:46
long live Syria , YES to unity NO to violence .

go Bashar we are with you all the way

by: joel from: usa
February 03, 2011 00:33
The majority of Syrian, including myself like president Assad. He is a young educated president, who is trying to move Syria forward. In order to appreciate Assad, one must compare Syria in 2000, when he took office, to Syria today. Syria is a much better country with him on top. As a Christian man, I enjoy comlete freedom to practice my faith in Syria.
Also, the event in Hama in 1982 was generated by extremest, who chose to use extreme violance to express their views. They killed hundreds of innocent civilians traveling in buses in one day.

by: Marco from: Canada
February 03, 2011 00:42
I've visited Syria 2 years ago. Syria is a very backward country. Anyone with a brain or money leaves. I doubt there is any progressive elements left in Syria.

by: American Troll
February 03, 2011 05:31
Sorry guys, but New Zealand has a better chance of a violent revolution. Emigres hate Assad with mechanical regularity -- that's why they're emigres -- but it's the people there who matter, and the vast majority love the guy. Syrians are an impressively sane and non-radical bunch, but Arabs just don't get more politically apathetic outside of the Gulf. Honestly, if Assad got on live television and peeled away a mask, Mission Impossible-style, revealing a non-comatose Ariel Sharon, 90% of Syrians would just shrug and go, "Jewish, Alawite, what's the difference? Our stores and bellies are full." It would take every home in Chad and Somalia having a domestic robot and a rocket car before Syrians would feel in any way slighted. It's pure materialism, even beyond America. Elections and public criticism just don't factor into the majority's worldview.
In Response

by: asdf from: usa
February 05, 2011 19:45
"It would take every home in Chad and Somalia having a domestic robot and a rocket car before Syrians would feel in any way slighted. "

I don't have an opinion on the subject, but I just want to say that this was a fantastic response.

by: Jay from: USA
February 03, 2011 15:06
Every government has pros and cons, the most democratic ones are prime examples.
People would look after their own agenda, but how far do they do it is the question.
I lived in the USA for 15 years and do visit twice/ year and wonder how can someone say all immigrants hates Bashar, because they are utterly wrong.
We have ways to go to try to close the gap with the west.
I feel very safe walking down the street at 3 AM, my friends from different religions all feel they can pray and practice with no restrictions.
For the guy (freedom) I don't know if you are involved in business at high scale, but if you are it's easy to know as soon as you invest in millions politics are intimately involved and that's true in the USA, otherwise I don't think the guy has ever mistreated you or anyone else, and you calling your countrymen idiots because they have different views doesn't make anyone feel good, or does it?
We have long ways to go, but destabilizing the country allowing the outlaws to operate and ending up with a state like Iraq with so much pain and explosions or giving the ruling to the radicals to put you back to the stone ages.

by: Hasan from: USA
February 13, 2011 16:26
Syrian government is a dictatorship, corrupted, using the anti Israeli and anti American speeches to control politics and money. Rami Makhloof is equal to Gamal Mubarak. This government should go ASAP. Syrian deserve democracy. This is not about liking the President or not but about living free with dignity.

Most Popular