Foreign Policy Blogs

Wither the Uprising?

The past few days have been telling in the ongoing struggle to determine Syria’s future. At this stage last week, momentum seemed to be building for the opposition as demonstrations gained numbers and force by the week. Certainly there are still significant elements working towards the downfall of the Assad regime, both in the streets and via the internet, and certainly the government continues its crackdown on those elements in ernest; however, the tide just might have turned.

This blog has argued that the ultimate determinant of Syria’s future would be the Syrian people. If this past friday is any indication, the Syrian people by and large have decided that they aren’t willing to take the risks required to oust the Assad regime. Others have had questions as to exactly how many people are protesting, and how deeply supportive the majority of the Syrian population has been of ongoing demonstrations.

Last Wednesday, April 27th, the Syria Comment blog ran analysis by an anonymous poster, identified only as a retired diplomat, who placed the number of protesters at a maximum of 400,000. This diplomat essentially argued that the vast majority of the Syrian population was unwilling to take to the streets in the face of great personal and national risk. On Monday, May 2nd, the Qifa Nabki blog posted the most damning critique of the ongoing demonstrations to date; an interview with Camille Otrakji in which Mr. Otrakji made the point that while many probably support the demands of the opposition, very few are willing to actually protest (placing the number at 150,000). And finally yesterday, May 3rd, the Washington Post ran this article suggesting that while protests continue around Syria, Damascus has remained quiet and peaceful.

Tactically speaking there is simply no way the opposition can expect to succeed if Damascus remains on the sidelines, and these protest projection numbers are right. Syria has often been lumped in with Egypt and Tunisia as part of the Arab spring, however, those movements reached a critical mass in terms of numbers that simply could not be controlled, no matter what Mubarak and Ben Ali tried to do about it. Syria is not at that point, and it increasingly looks as though it will not get there.

The Assad regime seems to have quarantined the most malignant areas of the uprising; namely Dera’a and other outlying areas. For the past week the city has been barricaded off, denied basic necessities such as food, water, electricity and medical supplies. This sort of divide and conquer strategy could not have taken place in Egypt, or Tunisia, because such large segments of the population had joined in demonstrations. Everyone was taking part, not just a select few.

The Syrian uprising has not enjoyed such universal participation thus far. It remains to be seen if such numbers can be mustered in support of the opposition, however, it will be an uphill climb. Certainly, the events of the past weeks have changed Syria forever, it seems that the Assad regime will remain in place for a while longer, at least.



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.