March 29th, 2011
02:59 PM ET

Why the winds of change won't blow through Syria

The following five points come from a phone interview with Joshua Landis, author of the blog Syria Comment and the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

1. The winds of change that have been blowing through the Middle East are likely to stall in Syria.
“The government of Bashar al-Assad has clearly gained the upper hand. The opposition movement and protests, which reached their apex on Friday, seem unable to gain traction in the [urban] cities or to move out of [rural] Daraa in the south. The real story of the last few days is that Bashar al-Assad has been able to isolate this movement in the countryside.”

2. The key to a successful revolution is splitting Syria’s elites.
“[Syria’s elite comprises] the Alawite officer class of the security forces and the great Sunni merchant and industrial families who preside over the economy [and] Syria’s moral and cultural universe. If those elites stick together, it is difficult to envisage widespread but scattered revolts overturning the regime. The cohesion of those elites is a question of social class as much as it is of confession. The Sunni merchant elite stood by al-Assad’s father in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood threatened to rip Syria apart. It allowed al-Assad to smash the Brotherhood. Their businesses are completely tied to stability and safety. And that has been the slogan of the regime for the last 30 years – security and stability.”

3. By being centered in Daraa, the uprising may have limited its appeal.
Daraa is poor, and the population is religiously conservative. It’s hard for Sunni merchants to make common cause with them. The dusty border city - marked by tribal loyalties, poverty and Islamic conservatism - may inspire Syria’s rural masses who suffer from poverty, a prolonged drought and joblessness. But mass demonstrations there have frightened Syria’s urban elites. Even those who share anger at repressions and hope for liberation still fear the poor and the threat of disorder.”

4. People are genuinely anxious about the future of Syria. They don’t want to be like Iraq or Lebanon.
If Syria could be like Egypt, people would choose it. Of course the Sunni urban merchants feel the indignity of the lack of political freedoms. They are sick and tired of the regime’s corruption, the slow pace of reform - all of these complaints are universal in Syria. But the problem is that in order to change the regime, you would need a heavy dose of violence, which they do not want.

“Syria is more like Iraq than Egypt. In Egypt, the military could turn its back on the leader, claiming solidarity with the people. In Syria, it will not happen because military leadership is drawn from the Alawites. Notice that unlike in Libya, there have been no defections from the government. There have been no resignations from foreign ministries. In fact, many important imams have come out to speak in favor of Bashar al-Assad and in favor of calm and stability. It’s a choice between dictatorship and civil war.”

5. What al-Assad says tomorrow at 4 a.m. ET is likely to disappoint the opposition and those in the West.
“Anything less than his resignation within two years is going to disappoint many people, and he is not going to do that. My hunch is that al-Assad will offer superficial reform. Lifting the emergency law, which will be welcome to everybody, may not in the end mean that much because there are other laws in the books allowing police and intelligence forces to behave in ways that aren’t acceptable, to trample on individual rights.”

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Topics: Middle East • Syria

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Brent

    Who makes up this crap you guys come up with... Where do you get you so called NEWS??? I am an American and I have friends living in Syria some with our Church group..A CHRISTIAN group. And they say taht the country LOVES the president. That just like in the USA some like Obama and some do not. That our news is SO mis informed. I think you all should focus on what is REALLY going on rather then just assuming.

    March 29, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Reply
    • Onesmallvoice

      Pretty much of the same is true in Libya,too. The current anti-Qadaffy rebellion is most probably Western orchestrated because the West covets Libya's oil and therefore the "no-fly" zones were set up. What do Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton take us for?

      March 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Reply
    • HT

      Thats a fair comment from an American in balanced perspective. Though I do not necessary hold such regard for alot of your country men, alot of Americans ever so ethnocentric seem so lacking in proper knowledge of what is going on in other parts of the world. Its likewise reflected by the mental content of alot of U.S. lawmakers which in frustration NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a swipe at saying: " Congress can't read...i bet they don't have passports..."

      March 30, 2011 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • sdl

      Boy, that's a really scientific poll you've just given us. How many people has your church group spoken too? Yeah, I know a Syrian guy and he doesn't love his president. You'll find that when you live under a dictator with a well established secret police, that people tend to "love" those in charge when you ask them their viewpoint.

      March 30, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Reply
    • the tacohell

      through out history, rebellion has started from the rural areas,for the people in the city everything might be good and peachy but for the ones in the fields it could be bad and getting worse so like normal people they get fed up with it. This is of course with only some rebellions other rebellions, like what libya is going through,everybody or the majority want the party/king/dictator gone.

      March 31, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  2. Anthony udekwu

    Finally a moral stance with some oomph behind it. We watched a million kids die in Biafra in the late 60's,intervened late (but effectively) in Kosovo and watched the bloated bodies float down the river in Rwanda. I am proud that we are standing up for the oppressed, that is what our country is all about. Congress should rally around our principles instead of carping about things that really don't matter in the short Go NATO, Go US Forces,Go anyone who cares. I am proud that you are spending some of my taxpayer dollars on something that matters. Raise my taxes if this is what we are going to spend money on

    Anthony O. Udekwu

    March 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
    • Mirjan

      That is the very nice Anthony. But tell me do you really believe that it is about helpin and not just interest ? Why only helpin people where there is oil or something else ?

      why the heck dont you help to othr 100 african nations or north korea or similar ? With $100 in ethiopia can 100 people eat one month... Because there is no oil or something worth...

      March 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  3. Alex

    Who is this Joshua Landis who is ubiquitous as a commentator, intermediary, expert on Syria? This goes way beyond a job at the University of Oklahoma. Who does he consult for? Who employs him? What is his agenda? It would seem reasonable to know these things in order to evaluate the accuracy of these opinions.

    March 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  4. Jesse R

    A Facebook page, titled "Third Palestinian Intifada," had more than 350,000 fans before it was taken down. It called on Palestinians to take to the streets after Friday prayers on May 15 and begin an uprising. "Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews," a quote from the page reads.

    The Muslims and tne Nation of Islam deserve as many civil rights in this country as they give women, jews and gays in their countries.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  5. Onesmallvoice

    At least Bashir al Assad is no stooge of the West like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and ben Ali of Tunisia have been and therefore deserves to stay in power.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Reply
  6. Benny

    The Future of the Middle East – Democracy is Dangerous if it is used in a Muslim Country

    March 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  7. j. von hettlingen

    What is taking place in Syria is just a cosmetic surgery. A new government is just a wolf in sheep's clothing. The Baath Party is so deeply that it belongs to the political landscape of the country. Besides Bashar al Assad wouldn't be able change the balance of power, that his father Hafis had created, the power of the secret police and other intelligent forces.

    March 30, 2011 at 4:34 am | Reply
  8. Kabuli

    Fareed doesn't have much credibility in my view. Recall he said "who knew there were mdorates in Iran" after all hell broke loose there in streets a year ago. He and other State bureaucrats perpetuate the US using religious figures and traditionals as ONLY access points to these oppressed communities. Well these people at this link seemed to know a long time ago:

    March 30, 2011 at 4:42 am | Reply
  9. rbhkoury

    Syria at Risk? A country divided: Middle East Insight from Singapore on the chances/risks of a revolution in Syria

    March 30, 2011 at 5:48 am | Reply
  10. nelson r. corpuz PHILIPPINES

    we are lucky because we have the chance to witness the unfolding of events during the end days. and because the days have been made shorter we should not blink nor sleep while these things take place. we cant prevent it neither obama nor the UN.NOBODY CAN BRING PEACE. ONLY GOD

    March 30, 2011 at 7:57 am | Reply
    • HT

      Its possible all the chaos in the middle east are due to endtimes happenings...I am not a Christian nor a Muslim just an observer of world events and some knowledge of the signs of endtimes from both Christianity and Islam. I am however very alarm at the unfolding of events in the middle east which seem to be going per Islam's Hadith hastening the arrival of their long awaited hidden Imam (a religious and political figure) coming to unite all Muslims for a fight with the Romans (Christians) which per 21st century interpretation would be the U.S. led Nato/coalition forces. The coming signs would be sudden unrest in the middle east, attack of Syria by Nato forces, death of Saudi King Abdulla and subsequent chaos. Thereupon the Imam will emerge, his followers from Yemen in one group and another group from Iraq / Iran making their way to occupy Mecca....lots and lots of bloodshed thereafter...for Muslims they believe all these necessary to usher in the peaceful world of Allah but for Christians, this Imam will be identified as a sort of AntiChrist figure...Iran's President Ahmadenijah was a happy man recently and he announced to public that all the middle east unrest due to Imam's doing and when Imam also known to Muslims as Al-Madhi emerges, Iran will be the vanguard for his military needs...which religion is correct, I do not know...i am observing...

      March 30, 2011 at 10:54 am | Reply
      • Kabuli

        Have you taken a urinalysis recently?

        March 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  11. James

    Winds of change will NEVER blow through Syria because the president will kill as many of the opposition as needed to quell demonstrations. Simple as that.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  12. Felix

    Syrian situation is much differet that the other Arabs countries , Syria has a common enemy and that enemy is Israel and while most people dislike Assad they are united against Israel and that is the reason he will stay in power and the United States cannot do any thing about it. Syria has a powerful army and the United States cannot solve all the problem around the world at the same time Israel is in a difficult situation if Assad fall nobody knows who will rule the country, take a close look at Egypt now every thing is rose color and the future for Israel with the Egygtian situation is not very clear. I have the feeling that Israel is preying for Assad staying in power the reason Assad is educated, cool head and he talks but he does not harm Israel he had been trying to reach an accord with the Iraelied Government.


    March 31, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
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