Since I am a student of history and interested in the middle east I have been following the uprisings there closely, from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to the civil war in Libya and now the spreading violence in Syria. It is more difficulty for me to tell whether the situation in Yemen is more or less chaos than usual in that semi-failed state so I find it less compelling. Iran too is simmering I think that with the victories by the opposition elsewhere we will see that state rise up again.
As far as Syria, we have the supposed “modernizer” ophthalmologist son Bashar al-Assad, son of brutal former dictator Hafez al-Assad now facing an uprising. In past decades his father dealt harshly with uprisings, such as his infamous “Hama Massacre” where 20,000 – 40,000 were killed to put down a challenge to the regime in 1982.
Now the son is using tanks on unarmed civilians in the town of Deraa, according to this article. Deraa has been a center of unrest and now the military has sent in armored vehicles and positioned snipers on the roofs of buildings to keep people indoors.
I would be quite interested to know what al-Assad would say to the nation if given the opportunity to speak about WHY he should be elected president, if there were elections that weren’t completely rigged. He took this opportunity when he addressed the nation on March 31 as summarized here. Assad was defiant and blamed the usual suspects:
From the opening remarks of the speech and a further near dozen times, President Assad referred to the “conspiracy”, “plots” and “sabotage” targeting Syria from outside, of which the protests for change which have centred in the southern city of Daraa, “a border area”, were a part. “The objective was to fragment Syria, bring down Syria as a nation to enforce an Israeli agenda,” said the president, a message that resonates with his supporters.
It is interesting. The primary purpose of Syria, per Assad, is for it to EXIST in its current form, under dictatorship of Assad’s minority group, and not be “fragmented”, likely into units that could potentially represent themselves. And also for Syria to continue to fight Israel.
This really is how he is presenting the VALUE of his regime to his nation, although about half the people are under 21 and have no memories of even minor engagements against the Israelis and virtually no one alive except the elderly remember the “real” wars of 1967 and 1973 much less 1948 and 1956.
It is amazing the childish nature with which he openly treats his subjects; without an ubiquitous and arbitrary security apparatus, the state would apparently implode and disorder would break out everywhere. And this is what the dictatorship of him and his father, since 1970, for over 40 years, has purchased? A simmering state about to explode the second he takes his boot off their neck?
It is difficult for me to understand how he will be able to re-integrate in the community of nations after using tanks against his own people when they are unarmed. By this I mean have himself and his rich friends travel to Europe for fine meals, medical care, and all the other things he denies his own people. This is something that he will care about, being confined in a state of seething rage surrounded by murderous neighbors and wailing about Israel, a country that for practical purposes poses no threat and doesn’t impact their day-to-day existence.
As he puts down revolts and only offers further promises of violence and nothing else to hold together his state, without a counter-vision there is nothing. Blaming Israel for every failure of your regime may buy you 40 years in the Arab world but it can’t buy you an infinite life span.
The end game may take many forms but the army of conscripts and the fact that his people are in a small minority and have a web of alliances may take him down. God knows what may replace him but it is likely that those he hit with violence (other ethnic or religious groups) won’t look kindly on those that propped up the regime for 40 years on the way down. It won’t be easy and obviously Assad will stop at nothing (along with his relatives, who may actually be ruling the place, anyways) but without some vision other than the threat of death his regime is dead.