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Daily View: Is Syria different?

Clare Spencer | 09:22 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Picture of Bashar al-Assad at a pro-government rally


As Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is expected to unveil reforms in first public speech since security forces curbed anti-government protests, commentators discuss how the country has been run and predict what comes next.

In the Guardian Syrian writer Rana Kabbani calls the ruling Assad family a mafia whose regime brainwashed her at school and protesters are now paying a high price to get their voices heard:

"Their protest has a very high cost. They are subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without trial, or trial by military court. Despite having no independent judiciary to defend them, no freedom of speech and no right to demonstrate, they are resolved to change their country for the better, whatever it may take. The most recent concession is the resignation of the cabinet. This and the staged pro-regime demonstrations that have just taken place are an indication not of how strong the Assads actually are, but rather of how weak and surpassed by political events they have become - much like the Mubaraks, Ben Alis, Gaddafis and Salehs of this new Arab world, which has been suddenly sentenced to hope."

Hassan Haidar says in Al Arabiya that there is no going back to the days of accepting without question what the Syrian president decides:

"[E]ven if Al-Assad does succeed in containing the current wave of protests using different methods, the situation in the country will definitely not go back to what it was; and he will be forced to deal with the Syrian demands on the domestic level after the "foreign level" depleted its role."

Simon Tisdall says in the Guardian that the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's faults can be blamed on the US:

"Assad's failure so far to pursue a reform agenda, and the crisis confronting him now, could be laid in part at the door of the US, Israel and European countries that were hostile to Syria and had weakened it through economic sanctions and trade embargoes, [Sami Khiyami, Syria's ambassador in London] said. Syria was a proud, dignified country that was 'difficult to tame'. Despite what they claimed, the great powers would actually prefer the Middle East to remain a 'buffer zone' between the west and Asia, an excluded, unrepresented, under-performing, second-class region with no real say in international affairs, he said."

Professor of Middle East history at Trinity University, David Lesch says in the New York Times that he knows the Syrian president and maybe it would be best for the country if he stayed in power:

"Even with the escalating violence there, it's important to remember that Syria is not Libya and President Assad is not Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The crackdown on protesters doesn't necessarily indicate that he is tightening his grip on power; it may be that the secret police, long given too much leeway, have been taking matters into their own hands.
"What's more, anti-Assad elements should be careful what they wish for. Syria is ethnically and religiously diverse and, with the precipitous removal of central authority, it could very well implode like Iraq. That is why the Obama administration wants him to stay in power even as it admonishes him to choose the path of reform."

Sami Moubayed suggests in Asia Times that, unlike other leaders, in Syria the unrest is an opportunity for Bashar al-Assad:

"Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, Syrians see Assad as part of the solution in their country, and not, like Hosni Mubarak and Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, as part of the problem. He is young, closer to their age than both presidents had been to young Egyptians and Tunisians, and has not been around for too long, as the case with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya or Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
"Additionally his positions vis-a-vis Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, two topics that are dear to the hearts of grassroots Syrians, have given him a protective shield that other Arab leaders do not enjoy. It is a golden opportunity for the Syrian president to make history - and Syrians are betting on him, rather than on mob violence, to bring change to their country."

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