Syrian Protests: The desert hides many secrets

April 22, 2011



Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad is in trouble. Widespread  protests have engulfed the country and are spreading from city to city. The opposition has called for even bigger protest on Friday . These protesters who are fighting against the draconian regime , swear by their democratic credentials. But reality could be murkier , and  for India and the world , even dangerous.

The current Syrian regime has been reprehensibly tyrannical and guilty of severe human rights violations. But this regime has brought stability and peace to land which has been traditionally wrecked by violent conflict within the various sects and sub sects that inhabit these lands. In fact, present day Syria is a wholly artificial construct created out of colonial necessity .

The current regime ideologically inherits from the Baath party’s Arab socialist political movement and still professes the Baathist ideals of secularism and socialism . Although it exclusively has its power base among the minority Alawites, it also initially had a wide degree of support from the middle class progressive Arabs of Syria who wanted a progressive alternative to Islamic fundamentalism.

Much of that support base has been eroded , largely due to the Assad’s regimes clannish power structure , widespread corruption and most importantly due to its inability to provide the burgeoning young population with a political platform to voice its concerns. However, substantial as this erosion in public approval of Assad regime was ,it could not possibly explain the sudden eruption of such widespread protests . 

And I cannot possibly buy the arguments that these protests are largely spontaneous. That happens only in a democratic utopia. In real world, these protests have to be financed, organized and directed , even if loosely. And in societies like Syria, where there was never a vibrant political sphere , there is no expertise or initiative available with the common citizens to direct such protests.

So what or who could be behind these protests? Certainly not the Iranians who have a deep interest in ensuring the survival of the regime . Certainly not Hezbollah , who is a large recipient of tacit and material aid from the current regime and a staunch supporter of the regime.

And contrary to what the current Syrian government claims , it could not be the Israelis or the US . Israel would prefer to have a deal with a firmly in control Syrian despot than a fractious diplomatic government, And the United States also does not want to further murky the situation in Middle East.

It could be possibly the Lebanese 14th of March movement, but they don’t have the resources . nor the reach to create something of this magnitude.

Than it leaves only one another actor, the Muslim Brotherhood. They have the motive as well as the means to do so. Brutally suppressed by Bashar’s father Hafez-Al Assad, they hate the current regime not only for denying the Brotherhood of its legitimate role in Syrian politics. but also for being hated apostates.

The situation reminds me of the Iranian revolution of 1979. The revolution , started by students and communists, was soon hijacked by the religious right . Brutal suppression by the Shah has paradoxically helped in strengthening the organizational structure of the right wing fundamentalists by enforcing the espirit de corps . Not only that , the elimination of the first and second level leadership by the dreaded SAVAK, indirectly helped in splintering of the movement into tiny autonomous cells. These when activated were very hard to suppress because of their very distributed nature.

Could it be the case in Syria too ? If yes, then it is a frightening scenario. Frightening for me, frightening for India, and indeed frightening for the world.


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