What Assad has won

Kamel Daoud writes: The Arab springs are nearly all out of season; everywhere except in Tunisia, they are aging poorly.

In the beginning, after a popular uprising, it was the dictator who fled, by airplane, as did president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia in early 2011. Now it’s the opposite that is happening: It’s the people who are fleeing, for instance from Syria, by sea and land.

This reversal raises an essential question, both simple and tragic: Can one still call for democracy after the victory of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, even if that victory turns out to be temporary, as some predict? What does it mean for the peoples of the Maghreb and the Middle East?

For many, the first lesson to be drawn from the Syrian case is obvious: One can’t always win the revolution, or at least not as fast as one would like. So far Assad has come out of the conflict alive, even strengthened — at the cost of the slaughter of half his people. His longevity goes to show that being wrong and facing fierce opposition from dissidents, an army and a large swath of the international community aren’t enough to unseat a dictator.

Assad, by killing so many Syrians, has also killed the dream of democracy for many other Syrians, as well as for plenty of people elsewhere in the Arab world. They can see that a revolutionary often ends up a martyr, a tortured prisoner, a militiaman in the pay of foreign forces or an unwelcome refugee. And neither his children nor his people are the better for it. That’s enough to sow doubt in even the most democratic of minds and the most fervent of revolutionaries.

And so here is the first Assad effect: The perception that democracy is costly — perhaps too costly. [Continue reading…]

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