Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
Crisis Group: The Syrian Regime’s Slow-motion Suicide
by Peter Harling for ICG
2011-07-13, Damascus/Brussels | 13 Jul 2011
[A 35 page Part II of this most valuable report. Harling is superb]
Even in its attempts to survive at all costs, the Syrian regime appears to be digging its own grave.
Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (VII): The Syrian Regime’s Slow-motion Suicide, the second of a two-part report from the International Crisis Group, examines the regime’s approach to the crisis. Although the outcome remains in doubt, as many Syrians still fear the prospect of chaos and sectarian strife in the event of abrupt change, the regime has significantly hurt its case through its brutal repression, half-hearted reform suggestions and squandered credibility.
“Playing catch-up with protester demands, the regime has always lagged one if not several steps behind, proposing measures that might have had some resonance if suggested earlier yet falling on deaf ears by the time they were unveiled”, says Peter Harling, Crisis Group’s Iraq, Syria and Lebanon Project Director. “Demonstrators have turned to something else. It is not regime reform they are pursuing. It is regime change”.
By sowing fear of instability, the regime seeks to check the extent of popular mobilisation and deter its less committed detractors. But while this appears to have had the desired impact on some Syrians, the balance sheet has been overwhelmingly negative from the authorities’ standpoint. The security services’ brutal and often erratic performance has created more problems than it has solved, as violence almost certainly has been the primary reason behind the protest movement’s growth and radicalisation.
The situation has reached an apparent stalemate but it would be wrong to bet on the status quo enduring. Economic conditions are worsening; should they reach breaking point the regime could well collapse. Predominantly Allawite security forces are overworked, underpaid and increasingly worried. They could conclude that the regime is unsalvageable and defect, precipitating its end.
Officials argue that many Syrians still see things differently, that they are wary of the protest movement, suspecting it is a Trojan horse for Islamists and that the fall of the regime would mean sectarian civil war. They have a point. Largely due to regime scare tactics – but also to some of the violence against security forces – the country has become more polarised. A growing number want to see the end of the regime; many still cling to it as better than an uncertain alternative, particularly in Damascus. The middle ground has been shrinking.
The international community’s options remain limited. Military intervention would be unquestionably disastrous, potentially unleashing a sectarian civil war, provoking further instability and benefiting a regime that repeatedly has depicted the uprising as a foreign plot. Sanctions against regime officials can be of use, but going further and targeting economic sectors that would hurt ordinary Syrians would backfire….
The world’s cautious attitude has been a source of deep frustration and even anger for the protesters. That is entirely understandable, yet such caution might well be a blessing in disguise. The regime is unlikely to respond to international pressures, regardless of their provenance. Ultimately, the burden lies with the protesters to counter the regime’s divisive tactics, reassure fellow citizens – and in particular members of minority groups – who remain worried about a successor regime, and build a political platform capable of rallying broad public support. Already their ability to transcend sectarian divides has confounded many observers. More importantly, it has given the lie to a regime that has made a business out of preying on fears of a chaotic or Islamist alternative to its own brutal reign.