As the Arab Spring stretches into the Arab Summer it has become harder and bloodier for each dictator to fall. The speed with which Ben Ali was deposed shocked the world, Hosni Mubarak’s downfall took a little longer and now, after months of fighting, Muammar Gaddafi’s days appear numbered. Bahrain and Yemen have disappeared from the international consciousness, so after Libya, the focus will inevitably shift to Syria.
After almost six months of protests against President Assad and six months of brutal retaliation and crackdowns, could the protesters be justified in fighting back? Following of the pattern of the Arab revolutions, Assad’s regime will be even harder to overthrow than the previous three – and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. Assad has shown his contempt for the protesters, by allowing his security services to murder over 2200 of them since March, and he shows no sign of stopping. Unless there is a coordinated, armed fight back and radical change over gradual change, there is little hope of Syrian freedom.
Nour identifies that corruption, intimidation and hierarchy are rife in Syria’s institutions. Therefore Kaplan’s argument for gradual change over radical change, in that Syria ‘may not have strong enough institutions to make fast transitions to Western style democracy’, is weakened. If the institutions are as weak as Nour suggests then they could be easily manipulated by Assad in any partnership or power sharing agreement. Furthermore, it is unlikely that after 4 or 5 years Assad would simply hand over power, unless it was to someone who met his approval and like Putin he could pull the strings from backstage. While Egypt is struggling to form a post revolution government, I would argue that most Egyptians would still prefer this set up to a power sharing agreement with Mubarak lurking in the shadows. We need look no further than Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya to see how strongly those in power cling to it, even after negotiations and agreements.
Syria’s sectarian divisions could potentially pose difficulties in any organised opposition, although Nour highlights the history of harmony between them, including marriage. He argues the sectarian divisions have been overplayed and exploited by the Assad regime for decades. With a common enemy in Assad and common goal of regime change it would be possible for a united opposition to fight against Assad. The tribalism of Libya is often discussed, however Libyans have been able to band together and depose Gaddafi. There is no reason Syrians could not do the same.
Finally, Nour argues that the country needs a ‘re-design’ and ‘re-engineer[ing]’ of all Syrian civil service employees, laws and institutions. The International Crisis Group views Assad’s attempts at reform as ‘belated’ and ‘half-hearted’, essentially he is playing catch up to the protestors, who have now lost patience and ‘[i]t is not regime reform they are pursuing. It is regime change’. Reform is no longer possible under Assad’s rule. He has shown contempt for his own citizens, contempt for democracy, contempt for human rights and no indication of a willingness to truly negotiate. If Syrians want change it will have to be radical change, led by a united, armed and determined opposition.