THE ENTIRE MIDDLE EAST AS OF RIGHT NOW IS IN SOME SERIOUS ISLAMIC TURMOIL, AND THEY WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE IT’S BECAUSE OF ISRAEL?
Peter Goodspeed: Syrian unrest a family fued that poses risks to Israel
Paul Russell Mar 29, 2011 – 11:50 AM ET | Last Updated: Mar 29, 2011 11:52 AM ET
ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images
Pro-regime demonstrators blame Israel for unrest in Damascus on March 29.
Syria may be in the throes of major power struggle as the country’s cabinet resigned Tuesday in a last desperate bid to curb nearly two weeks of increasing unrest.
The resignation of the 32-member Cabinet led by Naji al-Otari, may clear the way for President Bashar al-Assad to lift a state of emergency that has been in place since 1963 in order to introduce some of the reforms demanded by increasingly restive Syrians. The resignations, however, might also mask divisions within Syria’s ruling Assad family over how to cope with the current crisis.
While Mr. Assad has periodically hinted at political reforms since he took over as Syrian president from his father Hafez al-Assad 11 years ago, he has always hesitated to fulfill those promises and has bowed to the demands of hardliners within the regime.
Now, that his presidency is faced with its worst crisis of legitimacy, Syria’s leaders are faced with another stark choice between reform and repression.
And many of the Assad family can be expected to line up in favour of repression. Mr. Assad’s younger brother Maher al-Assad, is the head of Syria’s Presidential Guard and his sister, Bushra al-Assad is married to General Assef Shawkat, the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian army.
Mr. Assad’s more militant family members may also recall that the last time Syria faced large-scale popular street protests was in 2005, when Syria was forced into a humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon as a result of the public outrage that flowed from the car-bomb murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Having once been forced to surrender their influence and privilege, Syria’s military elite may not be anxious to suddenly become reformers.
The Assad dynasty is also based on the political dominance of Syria’s Alawite sect, a branch of Shiite Islam that comprises only about 13% of the country’s population.
The Alawites can be expected to cling to power, if only out of fear of possible retribution from Syria’s Sunni majority, if they fall from power.
Mr. Assad, whose family has controlled Syria for four decades, is expected to address the nation in the next 24 hours and has hinted through officials close to him that he is prepared to end the country’s state of emergency, lift bans on other political parties and expand civil rights.
But to be on the safe side, the country has ordered tens of thousands of troops onto the streets in the areas worst hit by public protests since March 18.
Hundreds of thousands of pro-government supporters also staged their own counter protests across Syria Tuesday, publicly expressing their support for Mr. Assad and calling for national unity.
For the last two weeks, while security forces gunned down anti-government demonstrators, state owned news media have blamed the killings on “armed gangs” who have been sending and receiving more than one million telephone text messages “mostly from Israel.”
Seeking unity in the face of an outside enemy, real or imagined, is a traditional tactic of regimes in trouble.