Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Joshua Landis on the not-quite-yet revolution in Syria

Landis talks about the relative calm in Syria, and its limits:

Even if the government in Damascus remains powerful for the time being and Syrians cling to the stability it promises, there can be little doubt that we are witnessing a profound break from the past. The Arab Street has finally come into its own. Rulers will have to think twice before treating their people like sheep. Economic failure will be punished. The video phone has become the Arab equivalent of the six-shooter in the American West. It is the new “equalizer.” It offers a modicum of equity and justice to the ordinary man who can now hold his phone aloft to capture police brutality and send it to Youtube. Technology has been transformative. The recent unrest could not have been sustained without it.

The Syrian community abroad has been irrevocably reunited with Syrians inside the country. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this change. The young of Syria can no longer be isolated from foreign movements and intellectual trends. Those who go abroad used to become dissociated from Syria. Calling home was prohibitively expensive and returning made difficult by mandatory military service.  Technology has attached the two communities. Skype, Facebook, and email have been all important to this revolution. In the past, the brain drain siphoned off Syria’s best and brightest; opposition leaders were sent into exile. Now they are leading the the charge against the regime, pumping sedition into every Syrian household with Youtube and Twitter updates.

A number of Arab states, in particular Tunisia and Egypt, have earned the right to be called nations. Their people have stood up as one to demand sovereignty.  Although emergency rule has yet to be lifted in Egypt and a stable government has yet to take shape in Tunisia, there is good reason to believe they will. For other Arabs, particularly those of the Levant it is too early to make such bold statements about national integrity. The leading reason Syrians did not take to the streets in larger numbers is fear of communal strife and possible civil war. They do not dislike their government enough to risk going the way of Iraq. Among large segments of Syrian society, Bashar al-Assad remains popular. As a multi-ethnic and religious society, Syria could come unglued.

But in a four or five years, the next generation of Syrian youth will not remember the turmoil in either Lebanon or Iraq. Palestine will be a cause remembered only by grandfathers. Instead of defeat and hopelessness, invoked by Iraq and Palestine, young Arabs may well have the examples of Egypt and Tunisia. They may well be on the road to becoming the Arab World’s first democracies.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:56 pm

    Now they are leading the the charge against the regime, pumping sedition into every Syrian household with Youtube and Twitter updates.

    If every household in Syria has Internet access, I would be quite surprised. This is not a trivial reflection; you will doubtless remember the analyses of the Twitter revolution in Iran as being basically centred in Tehran because that's where there's broadband, and most of the country just not really being involved... This kind of demographic can turn a revolution into a coup, by the time historians get at it anyway.