President Basher Assad of Syria, faced with the sort of popular uprising that has toppled governments across the Middle East, addressed his people today in which he offered no concessions and blamed the protests on “conspirators.”
Assad had fired his entire cabinet, mirroring a similar move by Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Protesters, demanding the end of a number of onerous laws, including an “emergency decree” that allows government security forces to act harshly against government opponents, are unimpressed. Demonstrations continue in the Syrian port city of Latakia, with government forces responding with rifle fire to disperse the demonstrators. So far 60 people have been killed by security forces during street protests.
So far there are no demands that Assad, who became president of Syria upon the death of his father, Hafez Assad, be removed. Assad represents a minority sect of Islam, the Alawites, who have dominated the primarily Sunni country of Syria for decades.
Nevertheless, the current uprising in Syria is the most serious since the city of Hama rose in rebellion against Hafez Assad in the early 1980s. The father Assad ringed the city with armor and artillery and reduced it to ashes, killing as many as 20,000 people.
So far the son Assad does not seem disposed to engage in those kind of harsh measures. His rule if not yet directly threatened. Assad may also fear the prospect of western intervention if he goes too far in suppressing his own people.
The irony is, American and European intervention is very unlikely. Three Middle Eastern wars are more than enough to handle at the same time, regardless of the evil of the Syrian regime and the aspirations of its people for some measure of freedom.
Even so, considering how the Syrian government usually deals with dissent, the Syrian protestors have to be commended for their courage. Next to Iran, Syria is the most repressive regime in the Middle East and is not shy about spilling blood to keep in power.
Syria is also a supporter of terrorism and an avowed enemy of the state of Israel. How continuing unrest will affect Syria’s relations with other countries cannot yet be predicted. The Syrian people tend to hate Israel, so the government’s stance toward the Jewish state is very popular. On the other hand, a regime that is busy dealing with people demanding things like freedom and human rights will by necessity be distracted from disturbing the peace around the Middle East.