Since the beginning of the demonstrations in Syria, some, mostly regime sympathizers or apologists, have obsessed over the numbers of demonstrators. They were too few to make a difference, they said, a handful of disgruntled extremists from the countryside; everyone else loved the president. When the numbers went from dozens, to hundreds, to thousands and then to tens of thousands, these number crunchers then switched to estimating the number of protesters relative to the total population again trying to minimize their relevance.
This is a silly exercise at many levels. First, no one knows what the numbers are since the government-run media is a propaganda puppet of the regime that spews bold-faced lies and no independent journalists are allowed into Syria. Second, in a country that has been in a state of lockdown since 1963, a dozen people publicly demonstrating against the regime would have been front page news only two months ago. So, if some of the citizens have boldly tossed the yoke of fear off their necks, it is a safe bet that many are still too afraid to express their real views. This fear is reinforced by the regime and its security forces' -uniformed or not- penchant for shooting unarmed demonstrators and otherwise trying to extinguish any nascent demonstration with threats of violence, intimidation and arrests. Witnesses also describe how security forces surround mosques at prayer time letting people leave one a time to prevent the gathering of a crowd; this after the president declared that Syrians have the right to demonstrate peacefully.
In the end, however, the question as to whether the regime needs to change has nothing to do with the number of demonstrators but has all to do with the response of the regime to the demonstrations; and by that measure they have lost all legitimacy. Several hundred, unarmed, demonstrators have lost their lives; few would dispute that their deaths was at the hands of the security forces or the shabiha. That fact without any attempt on the part of the government to take responsibility for its act is reason enough for a change. No Syrian, myself included, wants to see the country descend into chaos. That the options are down to the status quo or chaos is the choice of the regime not the demonstrators. The power structure, built specifically to cement the power of a few, is rigid with no room for flexibility to adapt to change despite having a self-declared reformer at the helm for a decade. The emergency laws have been lifted in name only as hundreds of arbitrary arrest continue unabated. Is there any shred of evidence that this regime is willing or capable of evolving, of reforming itself into something other than the repressive police state it has been for last 48 years?