Foreign Policy Blogs

The Sinking Ship

This week has seen the chances of success for the Syrian opposition go from slim to none. The revolutionary moment has passed and the Assad regime is no longer in immediate danger of being deposed by the Syrian protest movement. Protests will continue in pockets of ongoing resistance, however, the regime has succeeded in isolating opposition forces, preventing any sort of unified movement from sweeping the country.

A very important interview appeared in the NY Times yesterday. The controversial Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf gave a series of frank and insightful remarks to Anthony Shadid, the Times reporter who has been the pointman on Syrian unrest. Makhlouf is at the center of many of the claims leveled at the ruling regime. Cousin to the president, Makhloud owns many of the highest profile businesses in the country, including SyriaTel the most popular cellular phone provider in the country and Al Watan the only privately owned newspaper in the country, and is thought to count his personal net worth in the billions.

His words rambled at times; mentioning, in what seems to me to be a shout out to the US, the link between Syrian stability and Israeli security, and calling the protests the potential seeds of civil war. He also suggested that the Syrian elite will never concede to the protest movement, no matter the cost. This is the clearest communication yet from the decision makers within the regime and they are telling in both manner and content.

The “tank treatment” continues in Dera’a despite efforts at an international mission there, and has spread to Baniyas, Homs, and Muadamiyeh. The Syrian government has essentially announced victory, and the NY Times published a story about how good the Syrian regime has become at tracking satellite phones, the main conduit between opposition activists inside Syria and their international counterparts. This means that efforts at future organization will be that much more difficult. The opposition movement has essentially conceded defeat, amidst rather sad predictions for the future, calling for a meeting of Syrian opposition activists in Cairo later this month to unify the movement.

This video turned up late monday night from central Damascus. It shows a small demonstration starting in Arnous square (literally the center of the city) and moving through the Salhiyeh market quarter. Some of the protesters are detained by police officers, some uniformed and some not, and several are thrown in the back of a minibus and appear to be beaten. The fact that anything is going on in the capitol at all is noteworthy, but the numbers here are so small it is difficult to put much stock in them. I find the most interesting aspect of this video to be the reactions of those surrounding the bus. Syrians aren’t stupid, people can see what is happening. There is no reaction from onlookers. None. Bad sign for those hoping to create a movement that will sweep the entire country.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the regime is winning the battle on the ground, and that protests are shrinking in size and strength. The international contingent of bloggers, tweeters, and talking heads continue to use the rhetoric of revolution; however, this is can no longer be called a revolutionary struggle. Hopefully the violence being carried out by the Syrian government can be brought to a halt sooner rather than later as many continue to suffer. Who knows how long this bout of unrest will last, but one thing is certain, it will not unseat Bashar Al Assad and his regime.



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.