March 25th, 2011
07:24 AM ET

As protests mount, is there a soft landing for Syria?

Editor's Note: For a strong analysis of the unfolding situation in Syria, check out Joshua Landis' piece over at Time.com. Landis is the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and writes the blog Syria Comment. An excerpt is below.

By Joshua Landis for Time.com

The Baathist regime that has ruled Syria for 48 years is on the ropes. Even President Bashar al-Assad himself seems to have been shocked by the level of violence used by Syria's security forces to suppress demonstrations that began a week ago, and on Thursday afternoon his office announced unprecedented concessions to popular demands. But the question of whether those concessions assuage protesters' concerns or prove to be too little too late may be answered on the streets after Friday prayers.

The protests began a week ago in the dusty agricultural town of Dara'a, near the border with Jordan, over the arrests of high school students for scrawling antigovernment graffiti. Those demonstrations quickly spun out of control, with thousands joining in, inspired by the wave of revolutions that have rocked the Arab world, to demand political freedoms and an end to emergency rule and corruption. The government responded brutally, killing over 30 demonstrators and wounding many more, according to activists. Gruesome videos of the crackdown, disseminated via the Internet in recent days, have enraged Syrians from one end of the country to the other.

On Thursday, the regime began to try a different tack, with Assad's spokeswoman Buthaina Shaaban offering the President's condolences to the people of Dara'a and acknowledging their "legitimate" demands, even as she insisted that reports of the scale of protests and the number of casualties had been exaggerated. Oddly, the President has himself not appeared on TV since Syria's political troubles began, apparently hoping to protect himself from criticism. But Shaaban insisted that Assad was completely against the use of live fire in suppressing the demonstrations. She emphasized that she had been present in the room when the President ordered the security agencies to refrain from shooting at protesters — "not one bullet."

But the only promised concessions that can be taken to the bank are pay rises for state employees of up to 30%, and the release of all activists arrested in the past weeks. Other reforms, which the regime undertook to study, are job creation, press freedom, permitting the formation of opposition parties and lifting emergency law. Should they be implemented, those changes would be nothing short of revolutionary. But many activists have already dismissed Assad's offer as a stalling tactic to make it through the next few days of funerals and, most importantly, Friday prayers. The opposition has called for Syrians to assemble in large numbers in mosques for a day of "dignity" and demonstrations.

In order to mount a serious challenge to the regime's iron grip on power, opposition activists will have to move their protest actions beyond Dara'a and its surrounding villages, and extend it to the major cities. Their attempt to do so presents the country with a choice of great consequence: they must decide if Syria is more like Egypt and Tunisia, where the people achieved sufficient unity to peacefully oust their rulers, or whether Syria is more like Iraq and Lebanon, which slipped into civil war and endless factionalism.

Read the rest of the analysis over at Time.com.

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Topics: Middle East • Syria

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. mike furmanek

    Just wondering if I missed something about the Libyan situation...I haven't heard anyone mention of the fact that we had an Air base in Tripoli in the 50's and early 60's. It was Wheelus a.f.b....My father was stationed there and I was born there. Now living in California, Tripoli seems like a world away. It is vary strange seeing whats unraveling in Libya...

    March 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  2. Kristin Davis

    Bashar has never really ruled Syria...it is the regime. Unfortunately, Bashar will go down with them since it is the regime that's calling the shots. Anyone that has been to Syria will tell you the people are nice but the country reeks of corruption...it is so blatantly obvious even to a foreigner..and now will be the demise of this leadership.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    I wonder what the West could do, if the regime continued to deploy military to put down protesters. The coalition forces are pre-occupied with Libya. The spokeswoman Ms. Shaaban seemed to be very defiant in her interview with the BBC.

    March 25, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Reply
  4. Abood Ali

    The Syrian revolution uses a strikingly familiar logo.
    The Otpor fist was originally used in Serbia in 2000, and
    handed off to the various movements trained by the US funded CANVAS organization, including the Tunisian & Egyptian youth movements- now the Syrian Youth Revolution.

    “A prominent Syrian opposition figure says the country is “a bomb, ready to explode” as protesters demand freedom and an end to president Bashar al-Assad’s “cancerous regime,”” reports Australia’s ABC News. This prominent Syrian opposition figure is “human rights activist” Haitham Maleh, of the Human Rights Association of Syria, recently released from a Syrian prison.

    Haitham Maleh, and Muhannad al-Hassani, another activist whose plight is being used to stir up unrest, both received “pro-bono” legal services from the CFR stacked “Freedom Now” organization. Freedom Now receives funding from the Moriah Fund, the Lantos Foundation which includes Israeli President Shimon Peres as an “adviser,” Real Networks Foundation (which also funds Democracy Now) and the Charles Bronfman Prize which proclaims on its website “Jewish Values. Global Impact.” Freedom Now also receives “pro-bono” legal support from the Pillsbury law firm, a CFR corporate member.

    Freedom Now specializes in “political prisoners” from various regions around the world that attract the attention of globalist ambitions. Leveraging these “human rights abuses” affords the globalists a perceived moral high ground from which they can exert pressure on target nations. This is very similar to the operation being run by Chatham House globalist Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Peroff, who is defending western-backed Mikhail Khodorkovsky to ratchet up pressure on Russia, and Thaksin Shinawatra to exert pressure on Thailand.

    Understanding who these “human rights activists” are, who is supporting them, and the role they play in the latest round of the Western-backed “Arab Spring,” we can better understand articles like Jerusalem Post’s ‘More than 100 killed in Syrian anti-government rallies.’ In the very first paragraph, the article concedes that the reports were cited from human rights activists and witnesses, thus a continuation of the absurd, unsubstantiated reporting seen earlier in Libya where unverified reports by the criminally irresponsible corporate media laid the groundwork for an equally criminal military intervention.

    March 26, 2011 at 5:16 am | Reply
  5. Chris

    Josh Landis is a well known booster of the Syrian regime. He is a spokesman for the Embassy of Syria in Washington. His articles and the content on his blog align closely with the talking points of the regime. He also has close family connections with the regime; his cousin was an officer in the Syrian military before he was killed recently by regime opponents.

    Given all of the above, which is well known by those following Syria, I am surprised that Time would interview him and present him as an academic/analyst without letting readers know his agenda.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  6. pozycjonowanie

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    January 22, 2012 at 5:33 am | Reply

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