Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Syria as the key to the Middle East

I can't tell if my readers are fascinated or bored by my coverage of the Arab Spring.  I continue to forward material anyway.  I will need it next year for History of Islamic Civilization.  There is also the fact that a lot of predictions and claims are being made about the meaning of it all, and it will be interesting to see how those hold up.

Today I offer you a link to a  very meaty aggregation of pieces on Syria, from Joshua Landis' Syria Comment.  I will just excerpt one article from the Daily Star of Lebanon by Rami G. Khouri which I hereby enter in the great Arab Spring Prediction Contest.

Assad’s big problem is that Syrians continue to express greater populist defiance of the regime, rather than compliance with either its political promises or its hard police measures. The core elements of the regime that he and his father have managed for over 40 years are now all being challenged openly and simultaneously, including the extended Assad family, the Baath Party apparatus, the government bureaucracy, and the numerous security agencies. These form a multi-layered but integrated power system whose center of gravity and policy coordination is the president. We are unlikely to see a Tunisian or Egyptian model of the security agencies abandoning the president to drift and be thrown out of power, while they remain in place. In Syria, either the entire system asserts itself and remains in control – with or without real reforms – or it is changed in its entirety.

Here is where the Assad government and power structure play on some of their assets. The two most significant ones are that: 1) most Syrians do not want to risk internal chaos or sectarian strife (a la Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia) and might opt to remain with the Assad-dominated system that has brought them stability without democracy; and, 2) any changes in regime incumbency or policies in Syria will have enormous impact across the entire region and beyond, given Syria’s structural links or ongoing political ties with every major conflict and actor in the region, especially Lebanon and Hizbullah, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Hamas, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Regime overthrow in Syria will trigger significant, cumulative and long-lasting repercussions in the realms of Arab-Israeli, Arab-Iranian, inter-Arab and Arab-Western relations, with winners and losers all around.
For some, this makes the Assad regime the Middle Eastern equivalent of the banks that were too big to allow to collapse during the American economic crisis three years ago, because the spillover effect would be too horrible to contemplate. The specter of sectarian-based chaos within a post-Assad Syria that could spread to other parts of the Middle East is frightening to many people. Yet many, perhaps most, Syrians indicate with their growing public protests that they see their current reality as more frightening – especially the lack of democracy, widespread corruption, human rights abuses, one-party rule, economic and environmental stress, excessive security dominance and burgeoning youth unemployment.
The epic battle between regime security and citizen rights that has characterized the modern Arab world for three long and weary generations enters its most important phase in Syria in the coming few weeks, with current Arab regional trends suggesting that citizens who collectively and peacefully demand their human and civil rights cannot be denied.

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