Syria: Why Is There No Egypt-style Revolution?

Last Thursday, March 3, the BBC website carried a news story by Lina Sinjab in Damascus. Here are some excerpts:

So far, there have been few calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Although Syria faces similar problems as Egypt and Tunisia, the young president enjoys popularity here. His second term will end in 2014.

Since inheriting power from his father in 2000, he has introduced gradual reforms that have helped to revive the once stagnant economy and open up the media.

That has been enough to satisfy many.

The government has taken several measures in the wake of Tunisia and Egypt to reduce the cost of basic goods, especially food.

There have been grants for the poor, and reports that civil servants have been instructed to treat citizens with respect.

But Syria suffers from corruption that goes all the way up the system. The government is stepping up campaigns to fight it, but some figures close to the regime remain untouched. Many here believe that, without the rule of law, any change will be cosmetic.

Still, there is the sense on the streets of Damascus that demonstrations will not be seen in the capital anytime soon. There were calls last month for a “day of rage” – mainly organized by exiled opposition groups – but no-one showed up. Recently, a second call for a day of rage was sent out on Facebook. No date has been set.

The absence of any real opposition inside the country and fear of the security services were blamed for their lack of success.

Last week, dozens of young sympathizers of the Libyan protests held a peaceful demonstration in Damascus. It only took one person to violate the security instructions and several people were brutally beaten by the police. Some were arrested, but released shortly after.

This year, Syria is due to hold municipal and parliamentary elections. Many people now believe there is a golden opportunity for change and for a peaceful transition to a democratic system.

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4 responses to “Syria: Why Is There No Egypt-style Revolution?

  1. Michael Gundy

    President Bashar al-Assad’s father, the former President Hafez al-Assad was a particularly nasty piece of work. We have no comfort that the apple has fallen far from the tree. Remember that Syria is still the CIA rendering destination of choice.

    The lack of popular expression in the streets indicates that a brutal police state is the status quo rather than “happy young people” bought off with cheaper food.

  2. No doubt you are right, as usual.

  3. David Schatzky

    It appears that democracy is merely another product in the marketplace, competing with other products, like, for example, dictatorship. Giving people a little of what they want can go a long way to getting them to embrace a political brand, even if it’s only marginally an improvement over what they’ve had before. If bellies are full and there’s not an overwhelming amount of repression, then not many people have enough fire in the belly to overthrow a savage regime as they might if a) they are starving or b) if they experience a huge gap between themselves and segments of society they see as unjustly privileged. Right now, there are surprising shifts in places we might not have expected, like Toronto embracing (rather than rebelling against) an autocrat like Rob Ford because he attacks what many describe as coddled bureaucrats or left-wing elites wasting struggling law-abiding taxpayers’ money. The disgruntled can be bought off relatively cheaply. That’s how fragile democracy is, here and around the world.

    • 1. It is only “intellectuals” who care about liberty, fraternity and egality.

      2. Revolutions are made by “intellectuals”. Forthcoming evidence from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya is unlikely to disprove this.

      3. Autocrats are right to neutralize “intellectuals”.

      4. As you say, Rob Ford is an autocrat.

      5. But what if his targets were REALLY corrupt?