Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Why Syria's Regime Is Likely to Survive

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Why Syria's Regime Is Likely to Survive

Article excerpt


On December 17, 2010, Muhammad Bouazizi, a 26-year-old vegetable street vendor from the poor town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia (200 miles south of Tunis, the capital) set himself on fire in front of the governor's office, igniting a series of popular protests and clashes with the police that engulfed the country. Bouazizi had been humiliated by the confiscation of his vendor cart, and following the municipality's refusal to see him about the matter, he self-immolated. He died on January 4, 2011, as a result of his burns. Bouazizi's actions sparked widespread protests against President Zine al-Abidine bin Ali's nonrepresentative corrupt regime, high unemployment, brutal security forces, and single political party dictatorship, among other issues. Less than a month later, on January 14, 2011, bin Ali fled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after 23 years of rule.

The Tunisian uprising was swift, effective, and inspirational to the Arab masses everywhere. Within days, Bouazizi had motivated men in a number of Arab countries to self-immolate as a result of desperation over poverty, unemployment, repression, and corruption. In Egypt, at least five men followed Bouazizi's example, with one dead in Alexandria.1 On January 25, 2011, a few days after bin Ali's flight, thousands of antigovernment protesters demanding the end of President Husni Mubarak's almost 30-year rule clashed with riot police in Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo. The protests spread to other cities. During the first week of the demonstrations alone, the violence resulted in some 300 deaths, according to UN estimates.2

By February 5, 2011, President Mubarak had announced a series of concessions. He replaced the cabinet, appointed a vicepresident for the first time, and declared that he would not run for re-election for a sixth term in September 2011. He also replaced the politburo of the ruling party, including his son Gamal, and pledged dialogue with opposition parties.3 Earlier, on January 31, 2011, the Egyptian army declared its respect for the legitimate rights of the people, stating that it would not use force against protesters. Egypt's new vice-president, Umar Sulayman, invited all protest groups and opposition parties for immediate negotiations on constitutional reform.4 Six groups, including the banned Muslim Brothers organization, met with the vice president for the first time on February 6, 2011. The participants agreed to form a joint committee of judicial and political figures tasked with proposing constitutional amendments.5 On February 8, 2011, it was reported that 6 million public sector workers received a 15 percent pay increase.6 On February 11, 2011, President Mubarak resigned, handing over Egypt's affairs to the high command of the armed forces, headed by the defense minister.

In an Arab world ruled by dictatorial monarchs and military presidents who-unless assassinated in a coup d'état-typically remain in power for life, popular uprisings are alien. What then is the possibility that the Tunisian and the Egyptian popular uprisings will be copied in other Arab countries? This article addresses the question as it relates to Syria.


Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, on one hand, and Tunisia's bin Ali and Egypt's Mubarak, on the other, share common characteristics but also differ in many regards. In all three countries, a politicized military is the kingmaker, the supreme power. They have in common non-representative, nonparticipatory governance; single political party dictatorship; a rubber-stamp parliament; politicized judiciary; the absence of press freedom; brigades of brutal security forces infamous for appalling human-rights abuses; and a presidential cult of personality. They are also alike in the rampant corruption, absence of transparency or accountability in government finances, high unemployment, and huge disparities of income-poverty for the great majority of the population and great wealth for the tiny minority of the ruling elites and their business associates who violate the law with impunity. …

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