There is perversity in Bashar Al Assad's pronouncements that borders on the obscene. After starting, on the eve of Ramadan, the bloodiest crackdown in the five months of the Syrian uprising, he has the gall to pass a decree, like a benevolent father bestowing a favor on to his children, allowing the creation of political parties. All the while the state's security apparatus, when they are not bombing a town into submission to rid it of "armed gangs", tracks down, imprisons and tortures anyone who so much as thinks of dissent. The hand of the regime even extends outside Syria with their goons belting peaceful protesters outside of the Syrian embassy in Beirut.
Yet despite the fact that the regime's actions defy all logic and reason, many, in and out of Syria continue to drink the Kool-Aid dished out by the regime as I noticed on a recent trip to Lebanon. There, the defenders of the Assad regime make for some strange bedfellows. A not insignificant number of Christian Lebanese, the same people who cheered the loudest when the Syrian army left Lebanon in 2005, have bought into Bashar's narrative as the defender of minorities. There is of course the Hezbollah supporters, the party of the poor and disenfranchised, that celebrated the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen but demurred when it came to the Syrian revolt. Suddenly, the revolt of the Arab people is a Saudi-American-Israeli plot. Even my own brother seems to have sipped the regime's Kool-Aid. The truth about what is going in Syria is somewhere in the middle, he told me as I raged at the brutality of the regime. This from a man whose father -our father- was one of the early victims of the emergency laws having been thrown in Mezze prison for three months in 1963. My brother's contorted reasoning is that Assad is the defender of the "resistance" against Israel and that the Syrian revolt is manufactured by outsiders. Somehow, this reasoning makes it acceptable for Assad to kill, maim, imprison and torture thousands of his citizens for the simple act of expressing their opinion.
The other prop trotted out by the regime supporters is the elusive "armed gangs" of terrorists and salafists, an obsession of several of Josh Landis' posts. After nearly five months of government brutality, it is not surprising that some the citizenry have retaliated in kind; what is surprising actually is the amount of restraint shown by most citizens. I have yet to see evidence of an organized armed resistance let alone salafist terrorists who are typically not shy in boasting about their exploits. Having said that, if the regime keeps up the violence, their wish will come true. Armed resistance will emerge in various forms including the salafist whose appetite for violence will match that of the regime and then some.
The outlook for Syria is gloomy. Assad shows no signs of wanting to negotiate a settlement and with Syria having no independent civic institutions, a transition similar to that in Tunisia or Egypt is not possible. Moreover, direct outside intervention will not happen and will anyway be counter productive. The present impasse will continue with a ratcheting up of the violence on the part of security leading inevitably to increasingly violent push back from those on the receiving end.
If this vicious cycle continues to snow ball, Syria will degenerate into an Iraqi style civil war. I this happens, let there be no doubt that the regime bears full responsibility. Bashar could have chosen the high road back in March and he would have been celebrated as hero in all corners of Syria. Instead he has chosen the path laid down by his father in 1982.