Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Syrian regime bushy tailed but claws not yet out

The recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen and several street protests in Syria have put the regime on high alert.

Assad and his inner circle are confident they can keep the protests small and manageable and prevent a widespead revolution. They are probably right. The tools at their disposal are many and formidable: the extensive intelligence networks that permeate every neighbourhood and organisation in the land, threats, arrests, brute force, media manipulation, mobilisation of mouthpieces and loyal community leaders at home and abroad, bribery, insincere dialogue with protesters and calculated sabotage of peaceful demonstrations, as happened in Dara'a, to provide a pretext for intervention and to scare the silent majority into submission. In desparation they can even let off bombs in city centres or provoke a clash with Israel in Lebanon or the Golan with backing from Iran if necessary.

The regime is smart enough to make this a painful and long game whose ultimate goal is to throw a large enough piece of meat to the hungry protesters while digging its claws deeper into our flesh. The Syrian people are however smart enough to wear the regime down through patience, calmness and determination.

A dictatorship will always make mistakes because it pays people who are not so smart to keep it safe and because its control networks usually break down as chaos ensues in more than one location simultaneously. When serious mistakes are made the situation can spiral out of control with unpredictable and violent consequences.

The best outcome is not a revolution, a massacre or a bleeding to death of the regime or the protesters through chaos and violent clashes. The best outcome is for the regime to reform before it destroys the country or gets annihilated.

It is true that there is no organised opposition of any significance at home or abroad. The regime has made sure of that. However, ordinary Syrians have the power to persuade the regime to opt for peaceful change by continuing to protest peacefully, by making simple, realistic and clear demands (such as more jobs, better housing, freedom of expression, sacking of corrupt officials..etc) and by showing restraint and determination to be heard and not be intimated by threats or brute force.

Assad is at once a culprit and a victim of dictatorship. This explains why he has not delivered on his promises of reform since the Damascus Spring and why he has yielded to pressure from the hard-headed and power-crazed idiots that surround him. He and his wife have predictably yielded to the allure of the cult of personality which leads to delusions of invincibility; they have truly come to believe that the adulation of the masses is genuine and that together they personify resistance against the enemies of Arab nationalism, modernity and technological progress. How could the Syrian people not trust or love them?

Most likely the regime is entrapped in its own delusions and fears and simply incapable of reform but it would be a great mistake to seek to wound it fatally through a widespread and violent uprising. The consequences of violence on all sides are too ugly to contemplate. The regime must be given yet another chance to change from within. Frequent, coordinated, low-level and non-violent protests in as many population centres in the country as possible stand a better chance of succeeding than any other means.

No sane Syrian wants a Libyan-style solution to dictatorship but equally no Syrian dictator has lost his sanity so completely as to ignore the writing on the wall.

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