SYRIA ON THE BRINK?
"Thousands of Syrians demanded an end to 48 years of emergency law on Sunday, a third straight day of protests emerging as the biggest challenge to Syria’s rulers since unrest swept the Arab world this year. 'No. No to emergency law. We are a people infatuated with freedom,' marchers chanted as a government delegation arrived in the southern town of Deraa to pay condolences for victims killed by security forces in demonstrations there this week. Syria has been ruled under emergency law since the Baath Party, which is headed by president Bashar al-Assad, took power in a 1963 coup and banned all opposition.
The government sought to appease popular discontent in Deraa by promising to release 15 schoolchildren whose arrests for scrawling protest graffiti had helped fuel the demonstrations. An official statement said the children, who had written slogans inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt on walls, would be released immediately. The statement was a rare instance of Syria’s ruling hierarchy responding to popular pressure. Security forces opened fire on Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Deraa demanding the release of the children, political freedoms and an end to corruption. Four people were killed. On Saturday thousands of mourners called for 'revolution' at the funeral of two of the protesters. Officials later met Deraa notables who presented then with a list of demands, most importantly the release of political prisoners.
The list demands the dismantling of the secret police headquarters in Deraa, dismissal of the governor, a public trial for those responsible for the killings and scrapping of regulations requiring permission from the secret police to sell and buy property. Non-violent protests have challenged the Baath Party’s authority this month, following the uprisings that toppled the autocratic leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, with the largest protests in Deraa drawing thousands of people. The city is a centre of the Hauran region, once a bread basket that also been affected by diminishing water levels in Syria, with yields falling by a quarter in Deraa last year. Deraa is also home to thousands of displaced people from eastern Syria, where up to a million people have left their homes because of a water crisis over the past six years. Experts say state mismanagement of resources has worsened the crisis".
Khaled Yacoub Oweis, "Arab unrest spreads to Syria, thousands march," Reuters. 20 March 2011, in www.reuters.com.
"Momentum is building for the opposition. The demonstrations are getting bigger with each day. They started out gathering between 100 to 300. Today’s demonstration was well over 1,000 in Deraa. The New York Times is reporting that 20,000 joined the funeral march in Deraa. The killing of four in Deraa is new. Many Syrians claim that this is the first time President Assad has drawn blood with the shooting of demonstrators. The Kurdish intifada of 2004 in the Jazeera ended with the death of many but that occurred following the successful constitutional referendum in Iraq and was blamed on external factors. To many Syrians, this time seems different.
It is unclear where this can lead as the opposition has no leadership and Syria has no organized parties. All the same, we are in a new era. If demonstrations grow to the point that security forces are overwhelmed, the situation could change rapidly. Not all regions or cities of Syria would behave the same. The top brass of the armed forces are unlikely to abandon the leadership as they did in Tunisia or Egypt; all the same, loyalties would be divided for many. The next few days will be telling. The Deraa demonstrations were sparked by the arrest of 15 children for scrawling anti-regime graffiti. It is quite possible that they government can yet regain control of the momentum and protest movement. Syria lacks an organized internal leadership that can plan and administer continued demonstrations. There is a sophisticated, even if small, leadership abroad which could coordinate events on Facebook from afar".
Joshua Landis, "Demonstrations Grow," Syria Comment. 19 March 2011, in www.syriacomment.com.
The mere fact that Professor Joshua Landis, who despite his oddly friendly views of the regime in Syria in the last five to six years, is still no doubt the best American expert on Syria and its current regime living in the United States, has now suddenly changed his tune about the possibility of 'eventments' occurring in Syria is to my mind very enlightening indeed. As readers of this journal may recall, back in January and February, Landis was quite openly dismissive of any likelihood of there being a repeat in Syria of the events of Tunisia and Egypt. Now after two to three days of demonstrations and some bloodshed in a provincial city, the good Professor suddenly admits that there are indeed possibilities of a serious uprising occurring in Syria. I do not wish to condemn Professor Landis. No doubt, notwithstanding his previous, somewhat pour epater les Americaines, view of the Baathist regime in Damascus, he has heard through his own informants that dramatic events might occur with extreme suddenness. And low and behold the seemingly impregnable Alawite regime in Syria might, if not necessarily implode, be seriously shaken. And any serious 'shaking' of the regime in Syria, will indeed have serious geopolitical impact on both the Levant and the Near East as a whole. Syria is along with Hamas and Hezbollah, Persia's main, nay indeed only allies in the region. With Syria being the conduit for assistance by Persia to both Hamas and especially Hezbollah. If the regime of Assad Fils, is threatened by a domestic uprising, then one of the main pillars of Persia's influence and indeed power will also be both threatened and seriously weakened. So much so, that any such train of events, will at the least, mean that the American and Western position in both the Levant and in the Near and Middle East will have improved, or at the very least, returned to what they were prior to the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. So far, Syria is still relatively quiet and the regime is no doubt, endeavoring to ensure that a repeat of what has occurred in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, does not occur there. Only events can tell of course what may in fact happen in the next few days and weeks. My own surmise is that based upon the fact as Professor Landis has noted that the 'opposition' in Syria is leaderless, the regime will, presuming that Assad Fils is ruthless enough, manage to hold on to power. As the events in Libya have shown, provided that a leader is willing to spill oceans of blood, then it is probably the case, that said leader, need not follow the path of Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt. With the additional variable, being that the military and the security forces in Syria are dominated by the minority Alawite sect of which Assad is the head of. Hence the likelihood of the military being able to detach itself from Assad as a neutral party is almost non-existent. Assad of course, has his pater's own history to observe and follow, if need be. Exampli gratia, the uprising in 1982, in the city of Hama by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, was put down, with over twenty thousand people killed, as the regime bombarded the city into submission. However horrible the idea, one is afraid that Assad Fils, will if need be, remove the mask of a 'modernizer' & populist that he enjoys wearing to reveal that he is indeed his father's son.