Friday, March 18, 2011

Syria: The Genie is out of the Bottle?

As I reflect on the events in Syria today, I remember Bashar Assad's confident, if not smug, answers during the Wall Street Journal interview at the time of Mubarak's fall. He did not hide his pleasure at the fall of Mubarak and with him the Camp David accord.  He himself, however, was untouchable, he implied, because he listens to his people and backs the "resistance".  The various regime apologists later chimed in saying pretty much the thing: it will not happen in Syria.  Well, it has and  the brutal push back against the demonstrations in Yemen, Libya and Bahrain has not dampened the resolve of those seeking change.

Over the last three months, it has become perfectly clear for all to see that the autocratic rulers of the Arab world are all cut of the same cloth.  Whether they are American lackeys or chest thumping members of the "resistance", they view  their people with the same jaundiced eye and treat them with utter disdain.  The way they respond to demonstrations in the various countries might make you think that they are using the same playbook.  At the first sign of trouble, they bring out the riot police force, but also bring out the plain clothed goons to do the dirty work.   When people get hurt and killed, send the security forces to the hospitals to further intimidate the demonstrators and control the information coming out into the media. Of course, always blame outside agitators and infiltrators and ominously warn of chaos and disaster should they loose their grip on power.

The killing of demonstrators in Daraa today is a turning point for Syria.  If the regime retrenches and responds with more massive force to further demonstration -as I suspect it will, since it is the only way they know how to respond- I fear that Syria might descend onto a dangerous path.  What I would wish for  is a major public intervention on the part of the president to calm fears, the implementation of immediate reforms starting with lifting press and Internet censorship and the laying out of a serious and sincere plan for real reform.  Unfortunately, I am not hopeful anything that positive will ever occur.

In the end, the present regime, has no one but itself to blame.  In the decade since Bashar Assad has come to power, other than some economic reforms that have mostly benefited the rich; there has not been any  improvement in individual citizen's liberties and rights.  Had that been started a decade ago, the choices for Syria may not be as stark as they are now.

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