atrick Seale is the foremost Syria scholar. He has written the two best books on the rise of the Baath and Hafiz al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad closed his doors to Seale, believing he should find his own chronicler of Syrian politics just as he should tone up and revitalize the lineaments of the regime itself. His was a youthful plan, full of hope and confidence.
Seale worries that the country he has spent his life studying is slipping toward civil war. He does not have faith that the opposition can provide the unity and cohesion necessary to both bring down the Baathist state as well as rebuild it from the ground up. He councils dialogue and a more deliberate and cautious trajectory toward change.
One senses, however, that he is not convinced dialogue will work. No one has explained in greater detail than Seale himself that Hafiz’s key to stability was to fix the regime around family members and 30 or so loyal subordinates, or as I have phrased it: “it takes a village to rule Syria.” Bashar has not departed from his father’s model despite his efforts at modernization. Any real democratic opening would cause this “deep state,” as the Turks refer to the military elite that sustained their country’s Kemalist system, to crumble. Loyalty is its glue. Loyalty enforced with a large dose of force and patronage.
But more than this, Seale describes such disunity among the opposition that it is hard to imagine any faction being able to carry out talks without finding itself discredited and attacked by the remaining factions, which would use the setbacks inevitable in negotiations as the scaffolding for climbing over the negotiating party and pushing it aside. Real dialogue would require unity and a determined opposition leadership that could direct demonstrations even as it negotiated concessions from the regime. Agreeing to “bring down the regime” requires minimal unity. Disagreements can be postponed. But this “unity” is skin deep. It has big sectors of the populace anxious and sitting on the side lines. They know that once the state is destroyed, it may be too late for unity and too late to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Then Syria may be on the road to becoming Iraq or Lebanon. I have copied only a small segment of Seale’s argument. It is worth reading it all.
Way out of the Syrian crisis
By Patrick Seale
Some observers believe that a dialogue between the regime and the opposition is the safest way forward….
……..The opposition faces a stark choice: either to go all out to bring the regime down, or to cooperate with it in building a new and better Syria. The first course is hazardous: if the Baathist state is torn down, what will replace it? The future is uncharted. The second course requires an act of faith: it means accepting that the regime truly wants to implement radical reforms by means of a national dialogue. Its attempt to launch such a dialogue has so far failed to convince.
The regime has mishandled the protest movement. Slow to grasp the nature of the popular challenge, it has been violent and incompetent in confronting it. The security services, like President Bashar Al Assad himself, seem to have been taken by surprise. By resorting to live fire against the protesters, they displayed indiscipline and arrogant contempt for the lives of ordinary citizens. Ordinary people want respect. This has been one of the motors of the Arab Spring.
Al Assad himself has fumbled. Of his three speeches in the past four months, two were public relations disasters and the third far from the rousing, dramatic appeal to the nation that his supporters had expected and the occasion demanded. Above all, he has failed to put an end to the killings, arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture which have sullied his and the country’s reputation.
Meanwhile, the Baath party — ‘leader of state and society’, according to the notorious article 8 of the Constitution — has been virtually silent, confirming the widespread belief that it has become a hollow shell, concerned only to protect its privileges and its corrupt network of patronage.
No forceful leadership
If the regime has shown itself to be weak, the opposition is weaker still. It wants to challenge the system, but it evidently does not know how to proceed. It is split in a dozen ways between secularists, civil rights activists, democrats — and Islamists; between angry unemployed youths in the street and venerable figures of the opposition, hallowed by years in prison; between the opposition in Syria and the exiles abroad; between those who call for western intervention and those who reject any form of foreign interference…..
A sectarian civil war on the Iraqi or Lebanese model is every Syrian’s nightmare. There must surely be another way out of the crisis. ….
Hama is being subdued before Ramadan. The government felt it could not risk leaving the city lying outside of government control. It could become the birth place of a real “Free Syrian Army” – a sort of Bengazi. Or it could become the incubator of an opposition Syrian government. Liz Sly reports: Syrian Tanks Storm Protest Epicenter of Hama. Whether the use of increased force will succeed in doing much but infuriate more Syrians is not clear. So far, that has been the outcome.
July 31 (Washington Post) — BEIRUT —Syrian troops launched a major offensive to crush a four-month old rebellion against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad early Sunday, sending tanks into the protest flashpoint of Hama and several other locations in what appeared to be an all-out effort to silence the revolt. Human rights groups reported scores of casualties, with at least 49 people killed in Hama and 20 deaths elsewhere, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a group that monitors and organizes protests. The toll was expected to rise as the crackdown continued. Troops were also reported to have swept into the eastern town of Deir al Zour, another major protest stronghold near the border with Iraq that had been overwhelmed by anti-government protesters in recent weeks.
Obama: Crackdown in Syria Is ‘Horrifying’, 2011-07-31
Washington (AP) — President Barack Obama is stepping up his criticism of Syria’s crackdown on protesters, charging that the Syrian president is “completely incapable and unwilling” to respond to what Obama calls the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people.
One Big Armed Gang in Syria
“An official at the US embassy in Damascus told the BBC World Service that “there is one big armed gang in Syria, and it’s named the Syrian government”…
Speaking to the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme, Harder said: “I think we can safely say it’s full-on warfare by the Syrian government on its own people. This full-on warfare in which the government is engaged in today, I think, amounts to nothing less than a last act of utter desperation. They’re killing their own people, they’re sending their tanks into their own cities. It’s ridiculous. There is one big armed gang in Syria and it’s named the Syrian government. That’s the armed gang that is pillaging its own cities, that’s the armed gang that is striking terror into the hearts of a lot of these people who are out there who just want to peacefully protest…. The government is not exactly a cohesive, coherent unit but rather a group of disparate groups within the government itself,… On one hand you have a purported reform movement.. and then you have warfare, then you have full-on attacks of Hama and Deir Ezzor (in the east), it just doesn’t make any sense.” …”
“By early evening, activists in Hama told the BBC that the city was quiet, and that the tanks had pulled out to the city’s perimeters after failing to gain control of the centre.”
“But our correspondent says the people of Hama remain defiant, with some still out in streets shouting: “We will not be killed again,” a reference to a massacre in 1982 when tens of thousands were killed.”