Despite what is now the longest-running revolution in Middle Eastern history, the Syrian regime will probably be in power on December 31, 2012. I don’t say that because it’s what I want to happen — Syria’s revolution is more democratic-minded than those in Libya or Egypt; the government is far more repressive than the former dictatorships in Tunisia or Egypt — but because it seems inevitable.
Why is it that, after so many months of massive demonstrations and really bloody repression, President Bashar al-Assad seems likely to survive? Of course no one knows what will happen, but there are three reasons to think that Assad’s regime is surviving, though the cost of that will be a great deal of suffering and the wrecking of the country.
First, the rulers know that it is a case of kill or be killed. Given the hated and sectarian nature of the regime — overwhelmingly dominated by Alawites who comprise only about 12 percent of the population — the elite can expect no mercy if it falls. At least, the Alawite elite and its closest allies among the Sunni Arab Muslims will lose their wealth and power; at most, they and even their families will lose their lives.
A negotiated solution of any sort is not a real possibility and the elite’s members — including army generals — are aware that they must all hang together or they will all hang separately. When they look at Egypt, where they see the former president on trial and the armed forces under serious challenge, they are not encouraged to believe they should compromise with the opposition. And when they saw the former leaders of Iraq and Libya executed, that conclusion is reinforced.
Second, the revolutionaries don’t have a strategy for seizing state power. Daily they hold courageous demonstrations and suffer severe losses through killings and repression, yet the protests cannot force a determined dictatorship out of power. As in Iran — but not as in Egypt and Tunisia, where the armies were unwilling to mow down their own people — the regime’s ruthlessness makes it quite willing to pursue a strategy of brutality.
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