INTERNATIONAL. While protests in Syria are increasing in size and scope, the Syrian regime does not appear to be taking chances by parsing out political reforms that could further embolden the opposition.
Instead, the Syrian regime is more likely to resort to more forceful crackdowns, which is likely to highlight the growing contradictions in U.S. public diplomacy in the region.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad delivered a speech to parliament on Wednesday in which he was expected to announce a number of political reforms including the lifting of the state of emergency, which has been in place since 1963.
Instead, Bashar al Assad largely avoided talk of reforms. He said that security and stability needs to come first. He also built on a narrative that foreign elements were exploiting the grievances of the Syrian people and trying to break the country apart.
The minority Alawite regime in Syria faces immense socioeconomic challenges as well as demographic challenges but there are a number of reasons why the Syrian president appears to be so confident. Protesters in Daraa have come under heavy pressure by Syrian security forces and continue to come out in large numbers.
Protests have also spread beyond Daraa to cities like Damascus, Latakia, Homs, Hama and Kamishli, but the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is the main opposition group in the country, has not put its full weight behind the demonstrations and probably for good reason.
The Muslim Brotherhood remembers well the 1982 massacre at Hama which devastated the movement and essentially razed that city to the ground. The Brotherhood is likely looking for assurances from the West that they’re going to receive protection as the crackdowns intensify.
But there’s really no guarantee that the Syrian opposition is going to get those assurances.
The U.S. administration has been very careful to distinguish between the humanitarian military intervention in Libya and the situation in Syria, arguing that the level of repression in Syria hasn’t escalated to a point that would require military intervention.
The U.S. really has no strategic interest in getting involved in Syria in the first place. Syria would be a much more complicated military affair.
The prospects for success would be low and the downfall of the al Assad regime is also not a scenario that the Israelis want to see. The al Assad regime remains hostile to Israel but the virtue in that regime from the Israeli point of view lies in its predictability. The Israelis don’t want to see situation developed in which Syrian Islamists could create the political space in which to influence Syrian foreign policy.
To help ensure that it’s not going to get the Libya treatment, the Syrian regime is likely looking to Turkey for some assistance. Turkey, which has become much more assertive in the region and has stepped up its mediation efforts in Syria, does not want to see another crisis flare up on its border.
While encouraging reforms in Syria, the Turks have also likely played a key role in getting the Syrians to clamp down on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad activity in the Palestinian territories recently.
While the Turks will be encouraging the al Assad regime to make reforms at the right time, they could play key role in quietly sustaining external support for the Syrian regime.
Syria’s crisis is far from over and the protests could continue to escalate especially now that the al Assad regime has made clear it’s not willing to go down that slippery slope of offering concessions to the opposition.
The Syrian security and intelligence apparatus remains a formidable force and remains fairly unified in its approach to dealing with the uprising. What we’ll see in the coming days is whether those crackdowns will actually have the regime’s desired effect.
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