Syria Teetering on the Edge

By Mohamed El Mokhtar

The regime of El Assad seems dangerously engaged in a losing battle. Its over-reactive response to the growing popular demand for democratic change betrays a lack of vision typical of another age; a by-gone era of suppression of human rights and stiffening of freedom.

Instead of respecting the legitimate rights of their people to peacefully protest and express themselves, Assad and his henchmen are opposing their will with an iron-fist. They are dealing with a spontaneous popular uprising by shelling civilian areas with gunboats and crowding the streets of agitated towns with soldiers and tanks. This is hardly a behavior worthy of a purportedly young nationalist leadership.

Such an abnormality is an affront to Arab nationalism and human dignity; it bears all the features of a close-minded reactionary authoritarian state; the current bloodbath is the hallmark of a Stalinist-like regime not the attitude of a regime willing to seriously reform or democratically change.

Moreover, such ignominious attitude has not only seriously eroded the legitimacy of the regime and irrevocably tarnished Assad’s own reputation; it has also, perhaps, definitely alienated some of his rare and much-needed backers: Qatar, Turkey and even Russia.

No matter how well-founded some of the regime’s claims are, nothing justifies the indiscriminate violence meted out to civilian protestors for months continuously. The accusations being leveled against the overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrators don’t fly in the face of reality. The majority of people demonstrating in the streets of Homs, Deer-Zor or Hama is neither in cahoots with foreign powers nor acting on their behalf. On the contrary, these are ordinary Syrians yearning for freedom and justice.

These young Syrians had enough with dictatorship and want to free themselves, once for all, from the unbearable yoke of political oppression; they are in the streets to put an end to authoritarianism. They can hear, at last, the bell of freedom ring, from the Maghreb westward through the Sinai to Sana’a eastward, echoing the call of destiny; Syrians are, at his very moment, following the march of history.

In the footsteps of their brethren of Sidi Bouzeid and Tahrir Square, they are unshackling themselves from the chain of fear and opprobrium. They are finally standing up for their dignity as free men and proud Arabs.

Assuredly what we are witnessing now in Syria, like what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt and still unfolding in Yemen and Libya, constitute nothing more than a genuine citizen revolt. Arab people are fed up everywhere with police states acting in dissonance with the spirit of our age. They have legitimate demands. They want them satisfied. Their patience has reached its limits. And there is no going back. Never again! Those times are over!

The aggressive methods heavy-handedly employed by the Syrian regime today may have worked well in the past but, given the determination of the people and the current revolutionary momentum underway in the region, it is very unlikely the use of brutal force will suffice, in itself, to quell this pressing popular revolt.

On the contrary, it will further inflame the situation and completely erode the remaining basis of legitimacy the regime may perhaps still enjoy. Yet given its previous support among certain segments of the population (urban middle class, minorities, high military brass, merchant class…), the Baath government could have been easily able to  pre-empty the bulk of political dissent by working diligently to satisfy the legitimate demands of the people.

However, due to an exclusive monopoly of power over many decades, it has become ossified and impervious to real change. Without any type of checks and balances, it metamorphosed into a rigid Stalinist-like state ruled by a nomenclature of apparatchiks-cum-businessmen whose personal interests are tightly linked to the continuing predominance of a single party system, the Baath, which derives its strength primarily from its reliance on its security forces, and in particular the loyalty of a major republican institution: the Army.

The diversion of that national institution from its traditional role (protection of the territory and the institutions of the republic) to that of an oppressive instrument at the hands of the regime will certainly deal a serious blow to the reputation of the Armed Forces of the Arab Republic of Syria.

In fact, it’s never been the role of an army to put down a popular uprising. That is a degrading task to be entrusted to a national institution of that order. Armies are not meant to control crowds. Such role should be left to anti-riot police and only if need be, i.e., when there is a serious trouble affecting public order or impacting the security of citizens. Any other use of security forces is counter-productive.

Although it’s hard now to see how such a regime could ever recover from this dramatic situation, it will, nevertheless, have no other choice but adopt meaningful reforms or else speed up the process of de-legitimization and institutional disintegration. The latter gloomy scenario is particularly plausible given the number of enemies already on the lookout for Syria.

Like a perfect feast, a weakened Syria will attract to herself all kind of hungry vultures. They are already hungrily hovering around her wounded body, for they have not given up on their grand dreams of hegemony and geostrategic redesign; such visions of grandeur are still lingering in their minds. 

The opposition needs not to fool itself by stupidly teaming up with such forces. The fall of the regime is not an end in itself. The end is a change for the better. Therefore, political opponents of the regime should tighten their ranks and be more coherent and forceful in their demands while remaining realistic.

If the regime makes useful concessions, it should be engaged positively so that a process of democratization, ultimately leading to a democratic rotation of power, could be peacefully initiated. There will come a time for restorative justice and settling of scores. But for now there is an order of priorities.

The ingratiating words recently uttered by Mohamed Al Abdallah, the US-based Media spokesperson of local committees in Syria, on Al jazeera, do not bode well for some opponents in exile.

In a rare fit of hypocrisy, he clumsily tried to send some signals to his benefactors in some circles in Washington DC by saying:” All we want from the Syrian regime is to be treated like Palestinians are treated by Israel.”Not even Chalabi or Makiya had ever been able to utter such nonsense.

Let’s hope such sycophant is not a representative sample of the alternative to El Assad.

– Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba is a political analyst. He contributed this article to

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