Syria Will Stay Steadfast; Bashar al-Assad

“I am not worried,” President Bashar al-Assad declared in a television interview on Sunday.

But with the end of Colonel Qaddafi near and rebellions elsewhere in the Arab world either repressed or dangerously anarchic, the uprising in Syria emerges as the front line of the Arab revolts. In eight months, three strongmen have fallen in a region renowned for decades for its leaders dying on their thrones. While Libya and Syria have little in common beyond their repression, the arithmetic of the region seems to be betting against authoritarian rule that fails to reform.

“The change taking place in Libya in compliance with people’s demands, following what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, should teach a lesson to everyone,” the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said Monday in Ethiopia, in a thinly veiled reference to Mr. Assad.

“Leaders of other countries must also be aware of the fact that they will be in power as long as they satisfy the demands of the people.”
Jubilation, fascination and a hint of disdain at the Libyan rebels’ reliance on Western power reverberated through the Arab world Monday, as scenes were broadcast of rebels in Tripoli’s Green Square. “Victory” was a word heard about the end of a figure seen by many as despotic and unhinged; a line from a speech early on by Colonel Qaddafi, when he vowed to fight “zanga zanga,” or alley to alley, became a pop culture reference and was mockingly introduced as a new phrase into colloquial Arabic.

Syrian activists were quick to caution against parallels. Unlike Libya, they hold no cities; few if any are calling for Western intervention; and the military and security forces engaged in a brutal crackdown against them show little sign of fracture. But the lesson of the Arab revolts was reiterated — that absolute power can no longer go uncontested and that repression alone will not clear the streets.
“The fall of the Libyan regime is a victory for the Arab world,” said Samir Nashar, an opposition figure who took part in earlier acts of opposition to Mr. Assad.

He recalled the scene Sunday night at a cafe in Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city and, until now, relatively quiescent. When the television announced the arrest of Seif al-Islam, Colonel Qaddafi’s son often described as the heir apparent, many in the mostly intellectual crowd of about 70 jumped out of the chairs, congratulated each other and exchanged kisses.

“This is going to give a push to the Syrian people to continue,” he said.

Some regional analysts suggested that it might also push Mr. Assad to continue with his crackdown. Of the three leaders toppled so far, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia is in exile in Saudi Arabia; an ailing Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is on trial, appearing in court in a humiliating cage; and Colonel Qaddafi and his son face war crimes charges that will complicate any exile. They all believed that they could quell the uprisings, until it was too late.

On Sunday, Mr. Assad dismissed Western calls for his resignation as meaningless and signaled that a crackdown the United Nations now estimates has killed 2,200 people, 350 this month alone, would go on. That was the case Monday, when security forces killed three protesters in Homs, at the very time that a United Nations fact-finding team was visiting the city, Syria’s third largest, activists said.

“The lesson next time is to leave early,” said Nadim Shehadi, a scholar at Chatham House, a research organization in London. Mr. Assad “needs to understand first that it’s over. He probably does but hasn’t shown it. Then he needs an exit strategy.”

Since the beginning of the uprising, Mr. Assad’s leadership, having squandered its traditional support in a now-restive countryside, has relied almost solely on an argument that resonates in Syria, bordered by Iraq in the east and Lebanon in the west. Both neighbors fought civil wars that now serve as a basis for the Syrian government’s warning that only it can stave off chaos, even if Syria is in more tumult these days than any time in a generation. NYT