The protest movement in Syria has, to say the least, a whole lot of twists and turns. Domestically, we’ve talked about the photo-shopping skills of the regime, the potentially ruinous state of the economy, the ebb and flow of momentum, the use of propaganda by both sides and the possible sectarian strife and civil war that could follow the current protests; regionally, the Assad regime has created more problems in Lebanon with the Special Tribunal or Lebanon and Hezbollah; and internationally, the United States is playing an increasingly large role while the ICC could find itself irrelevant after Assad. Yet, the situation in Syria remains cloudy.
- Hama, the once rogue city visited by the American and French ambassadors, is back under government control
- Bu Kamal, on the other hand, has apparently broken away from the government as armed men stormed and took over Regional Administration Building
- The city of Homs recently witnessed over 30 deaths not due to clashes with government forces, but rather through sectarian, communal violence (some say Sunni vs. Alawite)
- Demonstrations in support of the government sponsored dialogue continue with fireworks and a 1,100 meter long Syrian flag
- Kurdish representatives have withdrawn support for the shadow government in Turkey after the decision was made to emphasize the Arab in Syrian Arab Republic
- American Secretary of State Clinton refused to meet with the shadow government while in Turkey and reiterated support for Assad’s national dialogue
In other words, almost nothing has been cleared up in Syria. One thing that has been clarified is that the opposition is hardly unified. The international opposition has made repeated calls for nonviolent rejection of the Assad regime – a sentiment shared by many within Syria. However, domestically, it seems that the opposition is splitting into a moderate camp supporting dialogue and a more radical camp that advocates the creation of a completely new government. Moreover, the armed clashes between different groups can only serve to further divide the opposition (some claim that such violence was instigated by government sponsored gangs – the “shabiha“).
My unsubstantiated gut-reaction is that time is on the regime’s side. Although it seems unlikely that Syria will ever go back to what it looked like before the protests began, the government hardly seems to be panicking in the face of the protesters. Moreover, any continuation of civilian on civilian violence (even if the shabiha are involved) will aid the regime by further splitting the opposition and making other wary of civil war filling the power vacuum left by an overthrown Assad. Two events that should have impact on the Syrian revolution is the outcome of the national dialogue (boycotted by many opposition members) and, interestingly, the situation in Libya following the fall of Qaddafi. Should the dialogue produce meaningful progress towards true reform and should chaos break out in post-Qaddafi Libya, many opposition members may be convinced that compromise with Assad is a better, and safer bet, than overthrowing the regime.
In any event, the Syrian episode of the Arab Spring, is and will continue to be for some time, as confusing and unpredictable as many predicted it would be.
Photo from JT Politik