Saturday, June 18, 2011

Why many Syrians are reluctant to get rid of the regime

Once again Jonathan Landis at Syria Comment explains the basics as he sees them.

This time, it's why members of the Alawite sect -- the heretodox group that President Assad and his most important collaborators belong to -- haven't turned against the Assad regime.  To explain this, he uses a piece written by a Syrian Alawite back in 2006.

I think this analysis applies not only to Alawites and Syrians, but to many people in corrupt regimes who would like change but also fear it.

Some extensive excerpts follow,  but there is lots more in the full post.

So why then don’t Alawis do anything about the situation? Why are we silent? Why doesn’t an Alawi Army General carry out a coup?
Reasons general to all Syrian citizens:
1. The culture of fear has been deeply planted in every Syrian person regardless of their sect or race.
2. We have been deeply conditioned to mistrust and be suspicious of everyone, making it extremely hard for any two Syrians to work together, not to mention organize in a group. To see how deep this problem has become, look at how much the Syrians in the Diaspora are fragmented even when they are away from the regime and its influence. No two Syrian expatriates are able to organize a cultural gathering, not to mention a political party. No sooner does a new party emerge than its members, who are from the same sect and race and background, start to split apart into uncountable factions.
3. The external animosity of the United States paralyzes internal movements, organized to act against the regime, no matter how well intentioned they are. No one wants to risk a serious move against the regime while there is an enemy at the door. The United States has not shown any signs that it is interested in improving Syria’s internal situation or helping Syria. What the U.S. is asking for clearly and loudly are changes in external policies, period. Most of those policies are not attractive to the Syrian opposition. The regime is popular on most of these issues, such as the occupation of Palestine, the Golan, or Iraq.
A coup-d’etat at this moment risks being labeled “made in America” even if it does not have the slightest connection to America.
The present sentiment in the Syrian street is anti-American. This means that any opposition that seeks support from the Syrian street will be anti-American and will be spurned by the West, as happened with Hamas. Any opposition that seeks external support will lose the street, as is the case with Khaddam. We are in a tricky situation; the regime understands this well and has exploited with skill.
4. The organization of the Army and security forces was masterminded by the late president Hafiz Assad to prevent coups similar to those that rocked Syria during the three decades after Syrian independence. The Syrian forces capable of carry out a coup-d’etat – the Army, Special Forces, Police Force, and Security Apparatuses – are all burdened with a complex command structure, purposefully designed to frustrate plotters.
5. Most Syrians, as unhappy as they are with the present regime, see no point in changing the regime without a solid alternative. The opposition has yet to present a clear vision for the future that would inspire people to risk the few joys of Syrian life that they have, security being at the top of the list. Vague and generalized talk about democracy and a better life are the only promises made by present regime-change advocates. They aren’t reassuring.
6. We have to admit that corruption has insinuated itself deep into the souls of almost every Syrian. It is highly questionable that any form of regime-change is going to achieve real economic or social change, without being preceded by a long process of grass roots reform and cultural revival.
We do have a corrupt leadership, but even an honest leadership would find it impossible to overcome the pervasive culture of bribery, disrespect for hard work, and indifference to public interest that is shared by state, and indeed, private sector employees. Most Syrians’ sense of virtue has become so crooked that fooling a customer is defined as cleverness, “shatara.”
Can change really be enforced from the top down? The regime changers avoid this thorny question, but it must be aired and debated. Are we willing to act, think, and work differently when the regime is changed?
Reasons specific to Alawi Syrian citizens:
The main reason that prevents Alawis from being active in supporting any regime change plans is their fear of the “other.” Those who propose regime change without explaining to us what the end of Alawi rule will mean for thousands of ordinary Alawis will get no where.
There are two sorts of “others” in Syria:
a. First are the Sunni religious and Kurdish opposition leaders who say bluntly and clearly: “We want to end the Alawi rule”.
b. Second is everyone else, who says shyly and elliptically: “The monopoly over top army and security posts by one sect should end.”
Not a single Syrian intellectual, political leader, or plain good-will writer, has ever dealt with the following fundamental question:
What exactly are your plans for the Alawis after we give up power?
Why do answers to this question have to be vague and general? What are your plans for the tens of thousands of Alawis who work in the army and other security apparatuses? What are your plans for the republican guard and the special forces that are staffed primarily by Alawis? Are you going to pay them pensions if you decide to disband their forces? Or will they be fired and dumped on the streets, humiliated, and ostracized as were the Sunnis and Baathists of Iraq were following the American invasion? Do you have any idea of the impact on security such dismissals would engender? Will you be satisfied with a scenario by which these forces remain in their positions in exchange for their giving up political power?
What are your plans for the tens of thousands of Alawis who work as government employees in many non-functional establishments? Are you going to close these establishments? Do you have any idea of the social impact of such closures? Are you going to stop improvement projects in the coastal area as all past Sunni governments have done since independence?
Are you going to reverse confiscation laws to return land taken from Sunni landlords and distributed among tens of thousands of farmers?
Are you going to demand that security officials stand trial for their actions during the last 35 years? What is the highest rank that you are going to hold responsible? Are you going to ask for trials for past deeds? How about the present leading elite? Who exactly are the people you want to hold responsible? And If you do bring them to trial, are you going to hold the Sunni elite to the same standard? Will Sunni families who have benefited from the regime through monopolies and sweet-heart deals, such as the Nahhas family in Damascus and the Jood family in Latakia, be treated as Alawis are?
These questions should be answered not only by opposition intellectuals, but also by every non-Alawi Syrian. What do you want to do with us if we give you back political power? Are you really willing to live side by side with us, to cherish Syria’s diversity, and consider the past 40 years merely another failed episode in our long history of failed revolutions.

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