Monday, January 31, 2011

You Know Things Are Real Bad When Assad Calls For Reform

Bashar al-Assad has ruled Syria ever since his father Hafez died in 2000. The Assad family has ruled Syria with an iron grip with no tolerance for dissent for more than 40 years. Hafez wiped out the entire town of Hama when the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to revolt against Assad's rule, and the death toll ranges from 5,000 on up. The Syrian regime brought in an armored division to pummel the city with artillery and then drove tanks through the town to quell the Brotherhood's influence.

It's the Hama rule that other regimes in the Middle East have all too frequently resorted to when things get tough and the regime is threatened by instability because the regimes are incapable of providing basic economic and social freedoms.

So, it is interesting to read that Bashar is contemplating some kind of reform for Syria. He's clearly reading the writing on the wall and that the socio-economic upheaval in Egypt can just as surely occur in Syria and he wants to hold on to his power as long as he possibly can. That means paying at least lip service to the idea of reform.
In a rare interview, Mr. Assad told The Wall Street Journal that the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen are ushering in a "new era" in the Middle East, and that Arab rulers would need to do more to accommodate their people's rising political and economic aspirations.

"If you didn't see the need of reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it's too late to do any reform," Mr. Assad said in Damascus, as Egyptian protesters swarmed the streets of Cairo pressing for the resignation of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

The Syrian strongman, who succeeded his father, has always kept a tight leash on his country and tolerated little protest. His regime has also maintained a close partnership with Iran and militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

While much of the region's unrest has hit countries that have developed alliances with Washington, his remarks indicate that the ripple effects of the Egyptian unrest will reach out to Middle Eastern leaders who are both friend and foe of the U.S.

Syria's response is particularly important because, while Mr. Assad's ties with the U.S. are strained, the Obama administration has been trying to pull his allegiances away from Tehran toward Washington.

But his remarks in the interview suggest that maybe harder in the wake of the Egyptian unrest. Mr. Assad said he will have more time to make changes than Mr. Mubarak did, because his anti-American positions and confrontation with Israel have left him in better shape with the grassroots in his nation.
Assad is deluding himself if he thinks that he can buy time by peddling the anti-US and anti-Israel line to his people. The Syrians, like all the other Arab regimes can see for themselves that this isn't about the US or Israel; it's about the failure of all these regimes to provide for socio-economic advancement and that the Arab-Israeli conflict and the US foreign policy merely deflect the anger away from the regimes. The propaganda will last only so long before people realize that the problem isn't Israel, but the corrupt regimes themselves.

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