Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Syria's Time Has Come

If there was one Muslim country that seemed to be immune from the wave of protests engulfing the Middle East, it would have to be Syria--on account of the tight lid it keeps on personal expression and of course the history of the Hama Massacre.

But now, according to the Wall Street Journal it appears that even Syria is ripe for protests.
Every Arab country is unhappy in its own way, and it turns out Syria is no different. A wave of protests the past four days, starting in the city of Deraa on Friday and spreading, makes Iran's chief Arab ally a latecomer to the spring of Muslim discontent.

The unrest has taken Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and the U.S. foreign policy establishment by surprise. Syria was supposedly immune to Arab contagion. Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs magazine published "The Sturdy House That Assad Built," arguing that the Arab wave would not only "pass Syria by" but see Damascus "relatively strengthened" by the collapse of Egypt and other pro-American regimes. The West, urged German political scientist Michael Bröning, better think of new and better ways to "engage Assad."
The turning point may have been the peaceful protest in Deraa of the arrest of 15 schoolchildren for writing graffiti against the Syrian government. Syrian forces opened fire on the protesters, killing at least 4 of them. The next day, mourners called for revolution. In addition to Deraa, there have been protests in Damascus and Aleppo among others.

The Wall Street Journal is calling on Obama to support domestic opponents of Assad whenever it can--the idea being that a weaker Syria would reduce support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and cut down on the spread of weapons and terrorism.

And yet, as often happens with dictators, there is an advantage to having a strongman in charge. So too here, there is an advantage to Israel in having Assad firmly in charge:
To Israel, the great advantage of Assad's regime is its lack of daring and its tendency to avoid risk and direct conflict. Assad's responses have been predictable, allowing Israel freedom of action. The height of this was the September 2007 bombing of the nuclear reactor that had been built secretly in northeast Syria. Assad did not respond, and even renewed peace talks a few months later with the prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert. The talks stalled, as had all previous attempts.
Israel may end up missing that silver lining, but no one knows for sure what kind of government might be created out of the chaos of the protests. Israel will have to continue waiting quietly to view the new Middle East political landscape once the dust has settled.

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Shena said...

It is Syria’s turn, although so far the protests seem limited to Deera.

Daled Amos said...

The source I quoted did mention both Damascus and Aleppo, but the main news is coming from Deraa.