At Open Democracy, Vicken Cheterian writes:
Syria is going through an uprising of socially marginalised regions, suffering from the absence of institutions and services, where the most obvious state presence has been the security agencies.
The context of this revolt is the weakness as well as the strength of the state. The Syrian regime portrays its major assets as opposition to great-power politics and support for anti-Israeli resistance. Its true chief resource is the fact that parts of the population still see it as a guarantee of stability and security. But this resource is fragile, and eroding under the pressure of the current violent confrontation.
The revolt that started in Deraa is, despite ferocious repression using live bullets, spreading rather than dying down. Several towns and cities remain under siege, with telecommunications shut down, highways blocked, and the country isolated from the outside world. A key question is how long such a situation can persist before the merchant class sees the regime as part of the problem rather than the solution; and whether, to avert this outcome, the Syrian authorities can learn how to use their most valuable (if now damaged) resource – the fact that they have come to represent stability and a defence against chaos?
“I do not care about who rules, or the type of regime” a Syrian friend who supports the status quo told me. “What I care about is that when my children go to school or university, I do not worry about their safety.” But today, he is worried about his family’s immediate safety.
Three months into the revolt, the regime seems at a loss. Bashar al-Assad’s third speech since it began, on 20 June 2011, offered little if anything new. “The authorities have fewer and fewer choices”, says a Damascus observer. “First, they tried to suffocate the incipient movement with heavy repression. That has clearly failed. Then the president announced reforms, the end to the state of emergency, but he said he would do reforms his way, according to his rhythm. This was taken very badly by the public, and the rebellion only spread further.”
Another analyst adds: “Neither repression nor the promise of reforms can calm the situation. Dialogue is declared, but dialogue with whom? We do not see it happening. How can it give any results?” When asked what the authorities can offer to the population to defuse the situation, the response is: “The only promise the president can give is to be the leader of a political transition”. But as Bashar’s latest speech confirms, the regime is managing the situation day by day – mixing repression here, the promise of dialogue there.
This is unsustainable over the long term. The security forces are over-stretched, and massive operations need resources. The state treasury cannot forever ensure such funding, especially as it has made costly economic concessions in other areas to appease popular anger: increased salaries and decreases in the price of diesel, even as Syria’s economy is in trouble and state revenues in free-fall. [Continue reading…]