The Persisting Struggle in Syria: Assad’s Grip Remains Firm

Syrian people: It is not only your lack of oil, but also your revolution's lack of achievements so far, and -- unfortunately -- the international community fears what may come from the instability of a Syrian revolution.

Every day, more disturbing reports come out of Syria. Today a report emerged that doctors and nurses sympathetic to Assad’s regime are abusing wounded protesters rather than helping them; some wounded protesters are beaten by the hospital staff or allowed to be kidnapped by Syrian government forces. Assad clearly remains defiant of all the international condemnation of his crackdown on the Syria protests. No matter how long these protests continue, no matter how many governments condemn Assad or call for him to step down from power, he knows his hold on power is secure. I have previously written about the differences between the situations in Libya and Syria, and how difficult regime change is for Syria.

Little has changed in Syria since I wrote these previous posts: the protests continue, the military continues to attack protesters, foreign governments continue to condemn Assad and ask for him to step down and place embargoes on Syria, yet Assad is no closer to losing power than he was when the protests continue. There remains an insignificant amount of defections in the Syrian military. Many of the leading activists have relocated to Turkey, and recently created a National Transitional Council (NTC) like the Libyan revolutionaries there. While the creation of the NTC is a step forward for Syria, it bears little resemblance to the NTC in Libya; the Syrian NTC is divided, with some members of it not even in agreement with it. While the Libyan opposition forces were diverse, they managed to put aside their ideological differences in order to unite against Gaddafi, whereas it does not appear the Syrian opposition forces are as willing. Furthermore, Libya’s NTC was based in Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya and the de-facto capital of the revolution; Syria’s NTC is based in Turkey, another country, and their opposition forces have no control over any cities. In Libya, since the rebels controlled some cities, they could openly communicate with each other in those cities, but in Syria, due to the government’s repression and the opposition forces lack of control, they have to communicate secretly. How are activist forces based both in Syria and Turkey, representing the NTC, supposed to communicate with each other? What sort of plan do they have to overthrow Assad? The street demonstrations are not working, despite their brave perseverance.

I have read numerous articles where authors assume Syrians can follow Libyans’ lead or that Assad will follow Gaddafi’s fall, but I fail to see what this is based on. After many months of the Syrian protests, Assad’s regime appears as strong as ever. Unlike Libya, no foreign militaries will get involved in Syria, and I do not believe that the U.S., Britain, or Israel even wants Assad to fall. The last thing any of those countries want is a power vacuum in Syria that will lead to chaos and spill over into neighboring countries, causing disruption throughout the Middle East, including Iraq and Israel. Israel, though no fan of Assad, at least knows what to expect with Assad in power, but a revolution would lead to unpredictable consequences. While Syria’s enemies fear a fall of Assad, their allies — China, Russia, North Korea, and especially Iran — certainly will do whatever in its power to keep it in power. A revolution in Syria would potentially be devastating for Iran, who is heavily invested in it and its closest in the region. While Iran publicly called on the Syrian government to recognize the aspirations of its people, that message was only to save face in the case of a revolution; it is well known that Iran is providing Syria with intelligence and military supplies to support its crackdown on the protests. The only ones who actually want Assad to fall are the Syrian people, but few governments truly hope to see it happen, with the possible exception of Turkey and perhaps a few others. A revolution in Syria would have unpredictable consequences for the global community; neither Syria’s allies or its enemies know what would happen if Assad falls. The struggle for power in Syria without Assad would engulf the entire Middle East.

As I have said in every post I have written about Syria, I support the Syrian people’s revolutionary aspirations, and I hope to see them overthrow Assad and install a democratic government that respects people’s human rights. Unfortunately, I do not see it as possible at the present time. With Assad unwilling to bend, the military loyally following him and crushing those who oppose him, the international community content with him remaining in power, Syria’s NTC fractured and disorganized, many of Syria’s leading activists in Turkey, and the inability of the Syrian people gain any traction in its revolution, I cannot help but wonder how this revolution will be successful. The Syrian people also insist on remaining peaceful in their demonstrations, and I doubt it even matters if they are peaceful or begin using weapons. If they remain peaceful, the Syrian government will ignore their demonstrations and use violence to disrupt them; if they begin advocating violence, the Syrian military will become even more violent and brutal towards the people, leading to even more deaths.

The outlook in Syria does not appear bright, despite the courageous efforts by the Syrian people. Perhaps the best option for the Syrian people is to lay low, end the current demonstrations, let Assad begin to feel comfortable again, attempt to covertly organize and form a true NTC, and secretly plot an all out and organized rebellion in another year or so. Would this work? I doubt it; I imagine Assad’s goons will sniff out the rebellion and crush it, but it at least give the Syrian opposition forces time to organize and coordinate their rebellion. Currently they are too fractured with no long term plan.

Nonetheless, despite the almost impossible task ahead of them, best of luck to the Syrian revolutionaries!

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