Sunday, July 24, 2011

Scenario of the Syrian Revolution

Some try to find reference for the Syrian uprising in the Iranian Green (2009-2010), the Tunisian (2011), the Egyptian (2011) or the Libyan (2011) revolutions. However, I see what is happening in Syria is similar to what happened in Iran 1977-1979 rather than to the above-mentioned revolutions.

First, the situation in Syria is different from the Iranian Green Revolution. Indeed, the current Syrian uprising is a popular movement that aims to completely change the regime, whereas the Green Revolution in Iran (2009-2010) was an elite protest within the same regime that aimed to contest the election results in support for a less conservative candidate. Therefore, the Iranian regime was able to curb it easily. Furthermore, the Syrian situation is different from the Tunisian and the Egyptian ones. In fact, the Tunisian regime did not have the military support from the beginning and, in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak lost the military support early on due to the American pressure on the military. In this respect, there is one important similarity between Syria and Libya where the army special units are in the hands of the “royal families” in both countries (Maher and Khamis, respectively), thereby guaranteeing significant support for both regimes. Unfortunately, the revolution in Libya transformed rapidly from a popular uprising into some kind of a civil war with a major tribal component. In contrast, the situation in Syria remained till now by excellence a popular uprising with clear peaceful claims of freedom and democracy without any degradation into a civil war (which might occur along the sectarian division). This happened, because of the political maturity of the Syrian people and the insistence of the Facebook organizers on the peaceful nature of this revolution. Importantly, there is another aspect in which the situation in Syria differs from the situations in the above-mentioned country is the lack of the enthusiasm among the International Community for removing the Syrian regime, due to the uncertainty as regard to the political consequences of its fall.

In my opinion the Syrian revolution is similar in many aspects to the Iranian one of 1977-1979. The Iranian revolution started by small size protests that had grown up progressively over 15 months (October 1977-Deceber 1987) to involve 10% of the population. Indeed, only few hundreds of people participated in the early demonstrations in October 1977. However, in summer 1987, after the idea of overthrowing the regime had become viable in the mind of many Iranians, the demonstrators’ number grew to several hundreds of thousands and the protests became ubiquitous in almost every Iranian city, including Tehran (however in a lesser scale). Further, the demonstrations reached their climax with 6-9 million demonstrator (10% of the population), including 2 million in Teheran alone, in December 1987. Of course, all these developments were not without significant brutal crackdown by the SAVAC (the Shah’s secret police), resulting in thousands of casualties among the demonstrators. During this time, the Shah’s support was gradually declining among the institutions that were profiting from his regime, particularly the army and the security forces. The Shah himself was progressively getting exhausted and emotionally drained; thus, when then the American Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal visited him in the autumn of 1978, he reported to his administration:"You've got a zombie out there”. The American administration was slowly admitting that the revolution is unstoppable (as expressed by a telegram, with the title “Thinking the Unthinkable”, sent by then the U.S. ambassador to Iran, William H. Sullivan to the State Department). However, the events on the ground were fast developing and the US administration was not able to prepare an alternative for the Shah regime. All that ended by the Shah abdicating his throne and negotiating his departure in humiliating conditions without an alternative being prepared.

I see the Syrian situation is similar to the Iranian one in many respects. First, the demonstrations started in a peripheral city (Dara’a) and have gradually increased in number and spread all over the country, somewhat sparing for now the two major cities (Aleppo and Damascus). This is because of the major security grip on these two cities. However, many indications point out that the idea of overthrowing the regime started to become viable in the mind of the Damascenes and the Aleppines, leading me to believe that they will prevail shortly over the security grip and the demonstrations will pervade every quarter of these two cities. Further, the support for the regime among its pillars, including the army, the Ba'ath Party members and the Civil Servants, is clearly eroding, too. The regime’s administration is confused and erratic. However, it is pretending (or has the illusion) to be in control, but the situation on the ground is, indeed, far being a close image to that. The president appears to be exhausted, withdrawn and pathetic. Certainly, the he is feeling deep disappointment and frustration, mainly because his self-delusion of being a competent, beloved and admired president has been severely broken. Further, the president is surely under extreme pressures, not the least the pressure from his wife, who likely started to feel betrayed and being used by the president and his regime (the President’s family). We should not forget the pressure from his other family members who are likely accusing him of being weak and indecisive. Lastly and most importantly, it is the economy and progressive increase in the intensity of demonstrations that are making the heavier weight on the president.

For all these reasons, I see that current Syrian condition is more similar to the Iranian situation (1977-1979) rather than to the circumstances surrounding the Iranian (2009-2010), Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan revolutions. Indeed, it is a standoff between the people and the regime that will take few more months. However, all the events on the ground indicate that the people is likely the winner. Nonetheless, the length of time till the people achieves its final victory, and the extent of damage on the country’s infra-structure and the death toll, will depend on the regime’s success in inciting sectarian clashes, the capacity of the opposition to select a viable political leadership and the efficacy of the American ambassador in his latest efforts.

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