The Assads are Riding the Tiger

Michael Totten notes diplomats reporting that:

… the government of President Bashar al-Assad had no wish to change and that there was no immediate prospect for a diplomatic breakthrough.”

That’s because if they do, they’re dead. Syria is a majority (71%) Sunni Muslim country but the Assads and the rest of the ruling class are a minority (11.0%) Alwai Shia. In case you haven’t been keeping track, Sunni and Shia get along about as well as Protestants and Catholics did during the reformation. If you imagine a 16th century country that was 71% Protestant ruled by a 11% Catholic nobility (or vice versa) you get the picture of the religious dynamics.

It doesn’t help at all that the Assads and the rest of the Shia have been both inept and brutal towards the majority Sunni for the last 90+ years. Most Sunni are very, very poor and most Alwai Shia are very rich in comparison. The Assads and collateral families are very wealthy.

The Assads have kept power to date solely by using Israel as the evil outsider to give common cause between Sunni and Shia. That is why Syria has long maintained such bizarre stances on negotiating with Israel e.g. “give up back the Golan Heights artillery positions we used to shoot at you from first and maybe, just maybe, we’ll negotiate.” The biggest disaster they could imagine until recently would be if Israel suddenly disappeared.

Now, the people of Syria have gotten so hungry that they don’t give a damn about Israel. In any case, Israeli raids against what most people assume where Syrian/Iranian WMD sites of some kind caused the Assads to loose serious face in the eyes of the people. The Sunni majority may feel they can give Israel a good kick as well as the Assads.

Serious religious friction, brutality and oppression, and systematic looting of the people has made the majority of Syrians very, very angry. Many ordinary Syrians have suffered so they have every right to blood vengeance and they will take it they get the chance.

For the Assads, there is no negotiated end. They saw how quickly Gaddafi’s regime disintegrated and how he died at the hands of his own people. If the Assads’ grip on power slips even a bit, they’re dead. The Assads know full well that they are riding a tiger they can’t jump off of without being eaten.

This isn’t going to end well for somebody.

11 thoughts on “The Assads are Riding the Tiger”

  1. ‘Most Sunni are very, very poor and most Alwai Shia are very rich in comparison.’

    Actually, that’s not the problem. The poor have always been with us and rarely rise up of their own accord. The problem is that the mercantile and land owning classes are dominated by Sunni. Until the assad ascendancy, they dominated the political class too. So much so that an alawite was not permitted to give testimony in court.

    So the Protestant-catholic analogy is apt, because oftentimes the religious dispute was a facade for what was actually a power struggle between the catholic nobility and the Protestant mercantile middle classes.

  2. Interesting analogy – and after the last round of “Arab Springs” – and the act that al Queda is helping the revolution have to wonder if Assad is the lesser of the evils.

  3. “The Assads have kept power to date kicking Israel”

    That’s wrong Shannon, and I’m inclined usually to agree with you. Prior to the last coup of Daddy Assad Syria was the par excellence coup nation [Edward Luttwak – Coup de Etat]. Daddy Assad cemented his hold on power by wiping out and crushing the Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in Hama especially but nationwide. Every Muslim in THE WORLD is raised on Milk Hatred of the Jahud [Jew]. So that’s a constant that should be factored in but is not decisive. Assad like Qadafffi ruled as a son of the desert..but very a very sophisticated police state son of the Desert. Everything was bugged. When a true History is written the problem will be diagnosed as the Dentist relaxing his grip. Hafiz knew the names of every Alawite Officer to Lieutenant and would frequently call them at their outposts, inquiring solicitously about their family whom he knew details about. And of course – patronage. Put the Daley’s in the Desert and if they won they’d do the same thing. CLOUT. Der Spiegel and other Euro newslets who aren’t infected with the Progressive fever to democratize the world are reporting that it isn’t a question of whether Jihadi elements have infiltrated the opposition but if any other elements to include *GAG* democratic ones have infiltrated the Jihadi.

    then there’s this fellow..Abu Musab Al-Suri [The Syrian] who’s shall we say…at large..

    Our best choice would be to get behind the Russians with whatever they want to do ..for this is their Israel and only port outside their own few frozen outlets..and our next best choice is NOTHING.

    Speaking of riding the Tiger there’s rumors afoot in the News that USG was funneling Libyan fighters to Syria. MADNESS. We could ask the Ambassador..but no we can’t.

  4. Sconzey,

    The poor have always been with us and rarely rise up of their own accord.

    Yes they do, when they get hungry. It’s the old observation that, “no country is more than three meals away from a revolution.” The poor in Syria and the rest of the non-oil states in the middle-east spend roughly 70% of their total income on food and even that just barely keeps them fed. A sudden 10% rise in food cost and people start going hungry immediately.

    Spontaneous uprising caused by food shortages are very common in history. As long as people have enough food to get them through the next day or so, a a minority State can cower them by making them feel overwhelmed and isolated. The poor will figure that they can survive if they keep their heads down and get enough to eat. When people think they’re going to starve, they suddenly have nothing left to lose and the State can no longer cower them. The risk of being murdered by soldiers is no worse than the risk of starvation. Rebelling might end in death but doing nothing and starving definitely will.

    The Arab spring was caused by a spike in food prices that left the bottom third of the population across the region struggling to eat. They just rose up in desperation across the entire region.

    However, you are correct about the dynamic between the Sunni mercentile and landed classes and the Shia. However, a major dynamic of the last 30+ years has been the massive shift in wealth from the Sunni upper classes to the ruling Shia. Its the standard 3rd world dynamic.

  5. One reason for the food crisis is our infatuation with ethanol as fuel. Notice that it is not mentioned by any legacy media when the Arab Spring is mentioned.

    “Serious religious friction, brutality and oppression, and systematic looting of the people has made the majority of Syrians very, very angry.”

    With the exception of religious friction, this is pretty much the story of the old Ottoman Empire. Iran had a rudimentary middle class developing but the bazaar made the mistake of backing Khomeini. I have read, I forget where, that if the Iranians ever succeed in overthrowing the mullahs, they might also reject Islam. It would be a shame to see most of them killed in an Israeli-Iran war. But that is how history goes. A third of the population of Europe died in the wars of religion after the Reformation.

  6. “Our best choice would be to get behind the Russians with whatever they want to do ..for this is their Israel and only port outside their own few frozen outlets…”

    Not true. The Russians have Black Sea ports of their own and even larger ones they lease semi-permanently from Ukraine. And Kaliningrad is open all year too.

  7. Shannon,

    It isn’t going to end well in Syria for _anybody_.

    And for good reason —

    “Peasants are often the dynamite that blows the old house down, but never spontaneously; the charge that sets them off is generally laid from above.”

    Barrington Moore.

    (From memory so it may not be quite right.)

  8. @Trent: the Moore quote is apt. Oft the poor rise up, as they are doing in Syria and as they did in Russia in 1917, and France In 1789. But often they do not: as they did not in the Great Leap Forward, or the Holodomor. The poor are always the double edged sword swung by another. Here it is the nominally Islamist Sunni middle class. In France it was the loose coalition which included both Robspierre and more mainstream progressives. In Russia it was western-educated Marxist intellectuals.

  9. When this is over the strongest is on top, that’s either going to be Assad or AQ/Jihad.

    Mind you they may be on top of several pieces of the former Syria.

  10. It is at times like these that strong and lasting relationships are born. A leader learns the names of his supporters and those who are unable to commit. He learns whom he can trust. And supporters learn if the leader is worthy and whether or not some one else should lead. It is a team that wins. The next question is whether the team can survive victory. The dentist’s father had his team. Now the dentist assembles his own team.

Comments are closed.