Syria: will brutality prevail?

Assad counters the protestors with tanks and live ammunition.  Can he survive?

Bashar al-Assad has ended the long-standing State of Emergency and rolled out other reforms.  Yet protests continue as many Syrians call for the collapse of the Ba'athist regime.  Gaddafi clings to power in Libya, the Saudis stamp out dissent and Jonathan Marcus, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent, says "much of the optimism in the wake of the events in Tunisia and Egypt is dissipating. New kinds of authoritarianism may be just as likely as the flowering of democracy."  This assertion is based on the reaction to dissent by the Libyan, Syrian and Saudi governments.  But will democracy ultimately prevail?

In his article, Marcus maintains that Bashar is only following in the footsteps of his father Hafez by using the tame Syrian army to stamp out revolt.  In 1982 Hafez ordered the armed forces to slaughter thousands in Hama, Syria's fourth city.

But that repression occurred before Facebook, Twitter or smart phones with cameras.  Despite preventing foreign journalists from reporting events in 2011, (unconfirmed) news leaks into the global media.  Bashar can't censor his troops' brutality, or the corpses, the injured and blood-soaked streets.  Just in the same way as Gaddafi couldn't prevent the sight of the Libyan uprising being broadcast worldwide.  Should protests evolve in Jeddah or Riyadh, the Saudi regime will encounter identical issues.

On Libya, the UN passed Resolution 1973 and NATO military intervention followed.  While that conflict persists, international reaction to the brutality of the Syrian government has only just begun.  The US is considering sanctions against Syria in response to Bashar's crackdown.  Israel is twitching nervously at the prospect of all hell breaking loose if the Ba'athist regime in Damascus falls, Lebanon collapses and chaos results.  Suddenly, Israel would be surrounded not by stability but by volatility.

Yet there's another prospect.  It is that the yearning for democracy, a decent standard of living and peace prevail.  In Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. The internet is so powerful a medium that hard-line repression cannot thwart its influence.  If the people really want change they'll snatch it.  As democracy evolves in Egypt and Tunisia, neighbouring Arabs will demand equally enticing freedoms.

Bashar al-Assad might have inherited his father's brutal streak, but history is not on his side. The people demand a better life. 

Gaddafi's days are numbered in Libya, Saleh is on his way out in Yemen, protestors in Palestine are calling for an end to Fatah-Hamas infighting, and the Jordanian King has sped up reforms. 

Limited reforms haven't placated the crowds in Syria.  So most likely it's only a matter of time before Bashar is gathering his prized possessions and family and seeking an exit.  

He's done himself no favours though.  By ordering the deaths of protestors, and innocent mourners at funerals too, he's placed himself on the wanted list by the International Criminal Court in The Hague which is now likely to indict him.  Unhelpfully, that action will force Bashar into a corner.  

Ben Ali is now facing eighteen charges in Tunisia.  In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak is investigated for corruption and protestors' deaths, and his two sons have been arrested.  Bashar al-Assad must wonder whether an exit of any sort is feasible.

For a man who had always intended to be a doctor, training in Damascus and London as an Opthalmologist, this turn of events must be distressing.  After his brother Basil's death in a car accident in 1994, Bashar was forced to abandon medicine to train as Hafez's successor.  He must regret ever agreeing to leave that unassuming, quiet London life to take over the family dictatorship business.  

Nizar Qabbani, a Syrian poet, publisher and diplomat, said "I want to free the Arab soul, sense and body with my poetry."  Bashar al-Assad would be wise to read it.

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