Foreign Policy Blogs

Surprises Abound in Syria

First of all, allow yours truly to apologize for the conspicuous gap in posts of late. There has been a fairly serious medical emergency with the paterfamilias which has kept me away from the blogosphere. My bad. The good news is that all is now well, and I’m back to a regular posting schedule. Lucky you.

On to Syria, where an odd kind of stalemate has settled in and is making for some odd behavior.

Surprises Abound in Syria

Embattled Syria President Bashar Assad, speaking before Syrian Parliament in his third public address regarding ongoing Syrian protests.

First the stats. Syrian protests –whether you use Syrian Uprising, Revolution, or something else– have passed the 100 day mark. Syrian refugees in Turkey have officially surpassed 10,000 according to the Turkish Government, and 30,000 according to the Red Crescent. The Syrian military is still deployed throughout large sections of the country, mainly focused on the northern border area at present, in attempts to keep protests in check. Opposition protesters continue to die. Pro-Regime protesters continue to enjoy themselves.

We have also seen a third public speech from President Assad. (Full speech in Arabic here, abbreviated translation and commentary here) Alas, Assad broke out most of the same lame talking points, mentioning armed gangs, suggesting that many opposition protesters are paid to take to the street, and condemning the many international media conspiracies currently targeting Syria.

In spite of the content of Assad’s speech, the Regime has been attempting to use this as chance to reclaim a narrative of reform. On Monday an officially sanctioned opposition conference was held at the Semiramis Hotel in central Damascus. Over 200 activists gathered in order to discuss and debate various proposals that they hoped to put before the government.

Surprises Abound in Syria

Members of the Syrian opposition gathered for a previously unheard of government sanctioned conference.

In another surprise move, Army forces have pulled out of Hama and several other opposition hot spots.

Not to be outdone, the US State Department is supporting a reform proposal that would leave President Assad in place; giving him the responsibility of overseeing “a secure and peaceful transition to civil democracy.” Apparently the US is REALLY afraid of Syria minus Bashar al-Assad.

Ultimately I find it hard to imagine Assad being involved in any legitimate transition process at this point. The man simply has too much blood on his hands. He also continues to ignore the fundamental existence and legitimacy of ongoing protests, continually sticking to the “armed gangs” mantra.

If Assad and the regime as a whole were serious about entering into a process of political dialogue wouldn’t there first have to be a disengagement period where the military returned to its barracks, official conciliatory statements made, and some level of calm restored? A “transition” is going to be a process, something that takes time and could only proceed after several initial steps.

Those steps aren’t happening yet and the government’s actions appear to be another set of calculated moves aimed at buying more time. What the regime gains from that time is unclear, as economic pressure continues to mount on the Government and many of its key supporters.

One thing I am sure of, Syria is not going to be calming down anytime soon. More to come tomorrow.



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.