What Will a Post Assad Syria Look Like?

I am a pessimist about Syria’s future because the regime will dig in its heels and fight to the end. The Syrian opposition has successfully established a culture of resistance that is widespread in Syria and will not be eliminated. Even if demonstrations can be shut down for the time being, the opposition will not be defeated. Syria’s youth, long apolitical and apathetic, is now politicized, mobilized, and passionate. All the same, the opposition remains divided and leaderless, which presents great dangers for a post-Assad Syria.

It is hard to see any soft landing for the regime or the people. It is also hard to see how the regime will be brought down short of economic collapse and its inability to pay wages, which would lead to wider social defections and a possible splitting of the military, as happened in Lebanon and Libya. If the military splits, both sides would have ample firepower to do real damage. Large sections of Syria could fall out of state control. Regions not divided by sect could remain fairly quite and stable for a time if there is a unified political leadership to step into the vacuum. Otherwise competing parties will develop militias as happened in Iraq and Lebanon.

No foreign power will feel compelled to step in to protect the people or stop the fighting because no one will be responsible for “losing Syria.” Syria is a political orphan today.

The army has split in Syria once before. This happened in Feb 1954 at the end of Adib Shishakli’s rule. The army divided along geographic lines. The divisions in the North went with the opposition centered on the People’s Party based in Homs and Aleppo. The South stood by Shishakli. Fortunately, General Shishakli decided to leave the country and flew off to Saudi Arabia, helped by the US. He had a change of mind in mid air but the US prevented his return. Washington convinced Lebanon to refuse his jet landing rights. After a brief spell in Arabia, Shishakli migrated to Brazil, where a relative of a Druze man, for whose death Shishakli was responsible, assassinated him.

Syria’s great weakness is it lack of unity. This is why the Assad household has been able to rule for so long. Hafiz al-Assad was able to bring stability to Syria after 20 years of coups and political chaos by reverting to the use of traditional loyalties. He ended Syria’s period as a banana republic by placing his brother in charge of protecting the presidency and using tribal and sectarian loyalties to coup-proof the regime. Alawite faithful were carefully recruited to all the sensitive security positions in the Mukhabarat and military. The Sunni elite was grateful for the stability and was further brought in through the crafty use of graft and patronage. Rami Makhlouf is corrupt, but he is also the fixer for the Sunni merchant class. The way he brought the Sham Holding Company in to the circle of regime loyalists was a classic use of privilege and muscle to glue the elite families of Syria to the regime. They have made millions my accepting an offer that they could not refuse.

The Syrian opposition has always been divided between Arab nationalists, Islamist currents, liberals, and all those who disprove of the regime but are too conservative to take part in active opposition. Then there are the sectarian communities and the Kurds, class divisions, and the urban-rural split, not to mention the traditional rivalry between Damascus and Aleppo. The reason that the Assads have been so successful for so long is largely due to the inability of Syrians to unite around a common platform and national identity. The opposition’s lack of unity does not augur well for a post Assad future, especially as the death toll mounts and the desire for revenge grows.

Sunni Syrians frequently reassure me that Syria is different than Iraq or Lebanon. They insist that Syrians have lived together in harmony throughout most of their history and will not kill each other in the future, as their Lebanese and Iraqi cousins have done. I am less sanguine about such Syrian exceptionalism. I have been wrong enough times to make mentioning this important. The ability of the opposition to keep the protesters on message and away from sectarian slogans has been impressive. It could mean that the younger generation will find unity where their fathers did not. Also, Syrian minorities were certain that they faced massacre in 1946 when the French quit Syria. The French and British archives are filled with such warnings by anxious minority leaders. Minorities were not killed. The Druze and Alawites suffered a painful loss of political autonomy and privilege in their regions, but did not suffer physically. No revenge was taken on them under the banner of being collaborators as happened to the Assyrians in Iraq when some 3,000 were massacred in 1933 following Britain’s withdrawal. Christians were not ethnically cleansed as happened in Turkey when Ataturk won against the Greeks.

As for how Middle East alliances might reshape themselves should Syria implode or become a weak state, the best guide is Patrick Seale’s original masterpiece, “The Struggle for Syria“.  During the 1950s and 1960s, Syria had an extremely weak state and was subject to frequent coups and outside meddling, not unlike Lebanon today. A grand tug-of-war ensued between Iraq and Egypt for control of Syria. It ended after the failed British and Iraq inspired coup of 1956. This signified the last serious attempt to unite Iraq and Syria. Subsequently, the US stepped in to overthrow the Syrian government in 1957. This also failed, but it destabilized Syria enough to open the way for the victory of the pan-Arabists. Syria lurch toward Egypt and the USSR. The formation of the United Arab Republic in January 1958 was the low point of Syrian independence. Only when the Assads took over Syria, did it regain an independent foreign policy that was not subject to the pull of regional actors and machinations of the Superpowers.

Today, the most powerful states in the region are Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. They will fight for dominance in Syria. Iraq is too weak today, but it will be a natural contestant when it establishes state structures on a firmer footing. Kurdistan may find it impossible to resist the lure of Syria’s Kurds who will want to unite with it. Egypt is also likely to remain a minor actor in the geo-strategic tug-of-war until it gets its political and economic feet back under it. Israel will also be fishing in Syria’s troubled waters. Tel Aviv will be most interested in taking out Hizbullah and shepherding Lebanon toward a peace agreement with it.

The wave of refugees that are likely to flow out of Syria will be significant. I have already had three Syrian students call me in the last several days asking for references as they apply for refugee status here in the States. This is but a foretaste of the refugee problem that will develop should the regime actually give way .

Many journalists have asked me to paint a happy outcome of the present instability. I have struggled to come up with a non-violent scenario, but don’t arrive at one easily. Perhaps that is due to my years living in Lebanon? Several businessmen have suggested that they are prepared for Syria to go through six months or a year of turmoil and even civil war to “get rid of this group.” Instability could be that short, but I doubt it will be. Syrians have learned to live with each other and are deeply nationalistic, but instability brings out sectarian loyalties. Everyone in Syria is trying not to talk about religion today, but many fear that sectarianism will  become ever more important as insecurity grows.

Comments (614)

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601. Mina said:

The role of sectarian satellite channels (both Coptic and Muslim) in incitment has been mentioned last week after the Imbaba clashes.
Here is a letter written two months ago to the 2 Coptic channels that have now some power on the crowd movements:
Something whould be done about the satellite channels. To call someone else an heretic is not compatible with modernity.

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May 16th, 2011, 4:15 am


602. NK said:


I fail to see how the ethical principles in Quran and Sunna are somehow different than those ethical principles in the old or new testament, I also fail to see how an ethical principle can be limited to a period of time, or how the laws of a society can contradict such principles.
Having said that, the reason why adapting Quran and Sunna as the “law of the land” is bad, have nothing to do with the scripture/teachings themselves, but rather with the interpretation of people applying those teachings, while the scripture is divine, the interpretations are not. That’s why we end up with Saudi style “Sharia law”, it’s not because the scripture is flawed, but because those applying it in Saudi Arabia are.
So as you see there’s a huge difference between asking “can applying the Quran and Sunna in the 21st century be creating any civilized nation” to which the answer will be YES. And asking “should a country depend on Quran and Sunna when drafting laws” to which the answer would be NO. Not sure if this makes any sense to you.

As for Salafis who want to live in the 7th century, as you said they are free to live their lives the way they see fit, just leave the rest of us out of it.


Did the MB knock down on doors in the middle of the night, gather every male in the building older than 15, line them up in the middle of the road then gun them down ? did the MB shell entire neighborhoods killing every man woman and child then pave the roads over their bodies ? or maybe the MB kidnapped/jailed thousands over 40 years, many are unaccounted for to this very day ? Oh I know, they’re the ones who jailed every Syrian intellectual or forced them into exile.

I’m glad you enjoyed a happy childhood, wish I can say the same for the thousands of kids who had to live without their fathers/brothers, or the thousands who are being harassed on daily basis by the Mukhabarat and not allowed to leave the country because their 2nd cousin two times removed knew someone who was a MB. I’m also very glad you’re not a Syrian Kurd.

You’re talking about H.Assad as if he’s the one who saved Syria from certain doom, I’m sorry, was there a sectarian war about to break out in Syria before H.Assad seized power in a military coup ? weren’t the Syrian Christians among the most wealthy, influential and highly educated during the 40s, 50s and 60s ?.

You ask why am I focusing on the negative. Well because there isn’t anything else, the Assads’ rule literally wrecked the country in every aspect. Are things that much better abroad ? YES, you can’t even compare. Not that many countries have unemployment in the 20-30% range, also very few countries have 30% of the population under the poverty line, or was it 40% ?.

You want evidence of tank shelling cities, we all saw the pictures from Daraa, soon the pictures from Homs will appear as well. As for people in Damascus and Aleppo, wasn’t there small protests all around Damascus, all of which has been suppressed brutally ? aren’t Douma, and Moudameya besieged ?. Aleppo is flooded with armed thugs intimidating and terrorizing the public for weeks now, my own family fled the city to the countryside.

You would think they won’t be able to keep millions in jails, but 10000 is a more manageable number apparently, not to forget of course turning soccer field into concentration camps for those extra defiant hot spots.

There was no attack on the SYP, when people convert their savings into USD it’s not really an attack on SYP, just lack of trust in the government and in SYP in general.

And finally we come to Mr. Fidaa who no one ever heard of before the events started, but somehow it seems he manipulated hundreds of thousands of Syrians all over the country to go out and protest for no good reason, probably using Al Jazeera hallucinogens.

People are protesting because they had enough of this dictatorship and are fed up with tyranny and corruption, they could care less who’s posting on Facebook, Syria’s problems today are internal, they’re not a foreign plot.

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May 16th, 2011, 4:30 am


603. N.Z. said:

Syrians are religious/spiritual people by nature. The U.S. is equally so. Politicians and leaders uses religious sentiments to divide and conquer the masses.

God’s  creation  in  its  plurality  of  cultures, 
civilizations, languages and peoples is a source of richness and 
should therefore never become a cause of tension and conflict. Like it or not, Syrians with all their multiple affiliation are, and will stay united, regardless.

We are not yet a Democracy exclusions on this blog seem to be the norm, specially when it comes to religious parties.

Take Turkey as an example, the majority were fearful of the newly elected party, after this same party (Islamic) translated its reform to better living standards, they were re-elected with a majority.

In Germany, the religious right, is represented and was re-elected.

Theoretically the Baath Party seeks to build national rather than ethnic identity, however, religious and ethnic divisions were the underlining of this mafia.

Before this mafia and after, Syrians are in no way, shape or form divided on ethnic, religious allegiances.

A Democracy, with all religious party on the ballot MUST not scare anyone. In fact the stagnation = status quo is the scariest.

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May 16th, 2011, 11:47 am


604. N.Z. said:

NK, Mina,

Here is a website that is called ” A Common Word” between us and you. If you have a moment I will really like to know your thoughts.

In A Common Word Between Us and You, 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals have unanimously come together for the first time since the days of the Prophet r to declare the common ground between Christianity and Islam. Like the Open Letter, the signatories to this message come from every denomination and school of thought in Islam. Every major Islamic country or region in the world is represented in this message, which is addressed to the leaders of all the world’s churches, and indeed to all Christians everywhere.

Never before have Muslims delivered this kind of definitive consensus statement on Christianity. Rather than engage in polemic, the signatories have adopted the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it.


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May 16th, 2011, 12:13 pm


605. Mina said:

Hi NZ,
Thanks a lot for this website. Here is a book which has a very good article by Irfan Shahid on early Mekka.
(The Encounter of Eastern Christianity with early Islam)

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May 16th, 2011, 1:29 pm


606. Usama said:


Let’s put the bs aside. The MB was firmly planted into Hama. Many people were giving them refuge in their homes and house-to-house raids were necessary. But they had to be taken out. Stop ignoring their bombing and assassination campaigns. They were assassinating good respectable intellectuals and scientists, while garbage corrupt officials were never targeted? Why is that? The MB is a foreign project, let’s not dance around that. I wouldn’t be surprised if many innocent people died in Hama, but only innocent people died at the hands of the MB terrorists. I’ll say it again, the MB has no place in Syrian society. About all those “intellectuals” sent into exile, you have to admit that’s pretty humanitarian option, no?

Now you’re saying there are thousands that are getting harassed by the Mukhabarat and not being allowed to leave the country? Which is it? Exile or no exile? You just throw this accusation of harassment of someone whose second cousin knew someone from MB, but I give you a hard inarguable example of the opposite. Najah al-Attar is a vice president. Did you know here brother is in exile for MB activities? I bet she’s feeling awfully harassed in that VP seat.

Let’s not start about Syrian Kurds. Compare our treatment of Kurds with those in Iraq and Turkey. If the Kurd separatists want to be recognized as anything other than Arab Syrians, Iraqi Kurdistan would be happy to have them complete with all the Israeli companies that have already established offices there.

Before Hafez al-Asad came in, coups were a common occurrence. He kept stability in the country when he took over. You don’t realize the value of stability in our region of the world.

If you need a reminder about positives, just remember that while every other country around us was rampant with corruption, it was also in service to western interests. What you think there was no Mukhabarat Jordan? Egypt? Iraq? No corruption there? Stop comparing Syria with far away countries, and instead compare it with the regional countries. We have no national debt. We have free post-secondary education and free basic health care. We gave Palestinian refugees all the rights of citizens, with the exception of voting, so they would strive for a future instead of falling to a life of gangs and crime. The picture you paint of the poverty is in such contrast to what I see going there. People are surviving, and before those protests began, social security was established for helping the unemployed. Things are NOT that much better elsewhere. They’re really not.

Can you please show me some of the evidence of the shelling? I haven’t seen it myself so I’m very interested in seeing it. There have been small protests reported in Midan, in the hundreds, and state TV even covered them. I didn’t see any brutal repression. Furthermore, the people from Midan didn’t know any of them. Duma and Mu`adamiya were scenes of police and soldiers getting shot, so damn right there the army came in. It’s a very interesting take you have from your family on Aleppo. My dad’s sisters in Aleppo seem to think the exact opposite. When the events first hit Lattakia in the first week, my relative there put it very differently from the reports of the so-called human rights groups as well. There was a group trying spread rumors in one neighborhood that members of another sect were going to attack them. Then the same group went to the other neighborhood to claim the opposite, that the first neighborhood is going to attack them. Lattakia being the diverse population, there are many friendships between the two neighborhoods and they called each other and figured out people were inciting them to fight. So they all met up and had a nice little gathering with backgammon, cards, argeela, until speeding cars committed drive-by shootings of them. Then people started popping up on roofs shooting everyone. The army immediately came in, and all my family there said that’s when things calmed down and that everyone felt better with the army coming in. Instead, on al-Jazeera, we hear the army was shooting peaceful demonstrators? If you’re willing to call the Syrian army monsters, I seriously doubt your Syrian background. Stop ignoring the fact that many of those soldiers are conscripts serving in their home towns and governorates.

If I call al-Jazeera today and say I witnessed 100,000 people in jails, would that become fact like this magic 10000 number you just gave me of supposed arbitrary arrests?

There was an attack on the SYP and it was traced to a chain of street-side foreign exchange booths in Aleppo, in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars. With the limits set on foreign exchanges, it would be very difficult to do what you said. Besides, the SYP is historically incredibly stable, and has been so for nearly 30 years since Rif`at’s currency counterfeiting operation made it plummet from ~10-16 SYP per USD to ~50, so I don’t buy your claims of people rushing to change to USD. It’s still at 47.5 today.

I bring up Fida’ not because I believe Facebook was actually mobilizing protests. What it did was publish rumors as news and fabricated material as facts. Again that wouldn’t be such a problem. But then you had AFP, AP, Reuters, al-Jazeera, BBC, al-Arabiya, Orient, etc etc etc all presenting the Facebook material as fact causing a very brutal chain of misinformation aimed at pushing the emotions of the Syrians. It was all clearly coordinated, with all channels sharing their eyewitnesses. How about the over 100 channels that magically appeared out of nowhere as soon as the events began? But I’m so proud of the Syrian people. They showed they can’t be so easily fooled.

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May 16th, 2011, 2:53 pm


607. Maria said:

nothin` in the world can divid syrians …we `re strong we have faith and our true religion is syria we love our president to death and we `re n`t willing to give him up

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May 17th, 2011, 7:32 am


608. Maria said:

The truth about what is happening in Syria, to all who are concerned
First of all, I think the world should first learn the meaning of the word “Peaceful” before describing the protests in Syria as such. What is so peaceful about attacking and burning buildings and hospitals, and killing people who support the government and advocate the slaughter of opposing faiths and beliefs? If this is what “Peaceful” means, then let the war against ‘Peace’ continue.

What is happening in Syria, even hundreds of people who are bought by money and have betrayed their beloved Syria…. Enough talking on Syrians behalf, Enough using Fake names and fake witness’s with no names, Enough listening to france press and reuters.

We live in Syria, a beautiful life we live as brothers love each other and who visits our country knows that, and who wants to visit us and see himself, we welcome everyone in peace and love. But we think U.S. and European intervention in our personal affairs is it self a dictatorship and takes away our freedom. We urge you to prevent American intervention, especially in our freedom. While president Obama condemns the violence against’ peaceful protesters (Who kill and destroy people and property)’ in Syria, he turns a blind eye on Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Bahrain to kill the actual peaceful protesters who no longer want to live under a Saudi proxy government. Go fix your own pathetic country before you even think to look at another, president Obama.

Millions of Syrians are showing their support for their president Bashar al Assad. Where are their voices in the Western media to cover these demonstrations? Why do the voices of the majority not matter? Is that not what democracy is? How come when I turn to the CBC News channel, I see “Syrian security forces shoot at peaceful protesters in Daraa,” and not “Armed terrorists in Daraa attack hospital, kill doctors”

there are pictures and videos on the Internet that the incoming Syrian police kill us, all that is fake ,made up in other countries not in Syria. Please help us by respecting what 99% of syrians want…..

We love our president, we love Dr. Bashar and we are and we will always be all the way with and behind him and be sure those people are not us…. and millions of us love him and this is our right, that what we deeply want…

God bless the Syrian army and president Bashar al Assad. ALL the Syrian people are with you. Please eliminate ALL the terrorists in our great country. Feel free to use every tank, plane and soldier you have to clean our lands from the extremists. our homeland needs its brave sons who are ready to defend it.

God bless Syria, God bless our President Bashar al Assad.

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May 17th, 2011, 7:36 am


609. Said said:

the real revolution has occurred in just one day and it was on 15/05/11, but unfortunately it did not last More than a day because of lack of resources deployed, such as media channels and logistical efforts deployed for Syrian and Libyan colored revolutions!

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May 19th, 2011, 5:30 am


610. Middle East - World Bad News : World Bad News said:

[…] “The regime will puncture in a heels and quarrel to a end,” Syria consultant Joshua Landis writes on his blog. But he continues: “The Syrian antithesis has successfully determined a enlightenment of insurgency that is widespread in Syria and will not be eliminated. Even if demonstrations can be tighten down for a time being, a antithesis will not be defeated. Syria’s youth, enlarged apolitical and apathetic, is now politicised, mobilised, and passionate. All a same, a antithesis stays divided and leaderless, that presents good dangers for a post-Assad Syria.” […]

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May 20th, 2011, 2:21 pm


611. Syria Comment » Archives » The Syrian Revolution Lives said:

[…] generation of Syrians will not be uprooted or destroyed by fear or firepower. As I wrote on May 11: The Syrian opposition has successfully established a culture of resistance that is widespread in Syria and will not be […]

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May 21st, 2011, 3:44 pm


612. The Syrian Revolution Lives - OpEd said:

[…] generation of Syrians will not be uprooted or destroyed by fear or firepower. As I wrote on May 11: The Syrian opposition has successfully established a culture of resistance that is widespread in Syria and will not be […]

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May 22nd, 2011, 6:32 pm


613. fat slice said:

As I lived in Syria before and I know how brutal is the regime there , I’m positive that this is the end of Bashar Al Assad

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August 28th, 2011, 9:42 pm


614. مهند said:

بالعقل ليسى مطلب اسقاط النظام واقعي لان الاغلبية من الذين يطالبون بذالك يعتبرون الامر موضة جديدة في العالم العربي ولكن على اجميع التبصر في نتائج فقدان الامن وعدم الاستقرار
وفي نقطة ثانية عندما نطالب بالديمقراطية علينا اولا ان نكون نحن ديمقراطيين ومرة اخرى الاغلبية من الذين يخرجون لا يحترمو الراي الاخر وكل الخشية من المتشددين دينيا لان الشعب العربي بالمجمل غير واعي وهذا رايي من زمن بعيد والدليل انياقه في كثير من البلدان الى حروب اهلية فلنسعى كي لا نكون وقود حرب اهلية لا رابح فيها
وبكلمة اخيرة نعم نريد اصلاحات ولكن لانريد ان ياتي الخراب ليحكناشخص ما يعيش في احدا دول اوربا او امريكاعلى كل شخص التفكير ما هي مصلحته في خراب الوطن وشكرااا

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November 17th, 2011, 11:25 am


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