Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Syrian Revolution moves from Above to Below

Over four decades ago, Syria saw a revolution that brought the Ba’th party to power.  The Ba’th party calls it the ‘Eight of March Revolution’ but it can be best described as what Trimberger called it - ‘revolution from above’.

It was a revolution orchestrated and carried out by the rich and powerful. So for decades Syria’s Populist Authoritarian regime embodied a post decolonization strategy adopted by the nationalist elites. This brought a major transformation in the elite class, political institutions and social structure.

A fragile post independence Syria then was unable to contain the nationalist struggle and class conflicts. But unlike a typical great revolution that often sees mass violence and insurrection from below, this one was initiated from above by a ‘reform coup’. Thus opened the way for a four decade long military-Ba'ath party rule which saw the masses feel increasingly isolated  under the Assads’ rule. 

The then President Hafez al-Assad was at the forefront of the leadership that led this revolution from above which brought land reforms, expansion of education and state sponsored industrialisation that benefited the elite strata of society. In the quest to attain more power in the Arab World and maintain his independence from the West, Hafez al-Assad went to war with Israel and always showed his discontent for the US policy.

No doubt there was growing discontent first under Hafez al-Assad’s reign which now turned explosive with his son Bashar al-Assad at the realm of things as he failed to meet the growing demands of the younger generation of integrating the economy into the modern world.

So what we see in Syria today was long outstanding – a grassroots’ revolution that now refuses to take command from the elite and President Assad’s clan and wants a land of equality and democracy.

Assad has gained enough unpopularity in Syria and the neighbouring revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have left Syria susceptible to demand change in regime. Today’s revolution, unlike the previous one, has found its origin from below. The tens of thousands who take to the streets everyday in Syria demanding the ouster of Assad bear testimony to the growing impatience of the masses in Syria.

But according to the Washington Post, leaked cables by Wikileaks show that the US has allegedly fanned the uprising by providing support to the rebels in exile for Assad has been a supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamist group and Lebanese Shia group and has been vocal in his opposition to the US.

While Assad can continue to point fingers at the US and Israel for the growing tensions in Syria and may find some element of truth in his accusations; he cannot turn a blind eye to the millions of his people who want him to lift the emergency and open the economy to foster economic and financial reforms. It was only reasonable that Assad and his new cabinet promised to lift the 48 year old emergency laws; but his men yet continue to open fire on protesters.

Assad senior ruthlessly killed hundreds of protesters to bring the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 (Hama Massacre); but the more people Bashar al-Assad kills today; the more difficult it will be for him to hold onto his seat; both the Syrians and the international community will press for his ouster and perhaps like Egypt’s fallen President Hosni Mubarak hold him accountable for his crimes.

But I think Assad may be able to wriggle his way out of the situation. I don’t necessary see an end to Assad’s rule yet but for that he cannot portray to be a tyrant and a ruthless dictator and must stop the violence on the streets. Next and most importantly if he wants to survive he will have to change his foreign policy for unlike Gaddafi, I doubt Assad will openly take on the world and ruthlessly battle it out on the streets of Syria for long.

So if Assad goes the other way; I’m afraid he will have to ‘sell his soul to the devil'- the US and give up most of what Ba'ath party stood for all these years. For starters the US will want Assad to lead Syria only if he agrees to shake their hand. 

Assad’s strong ties with Iran have been a threat to US-Israel interests in the region. But if Assad severs his ties even partially with Iran and withdraws his support to the Hamas and Hezbollah, the US would support the 45 year old Syria leader to stay in position for perhaps even another couple of decades. He may even be lucky to get back Golan Heights (lost to Israel in the 1967 war) if the US can successfully broker a peace deal between Syria and Israel.

If history has taught anything; it is that revolutions from below have a far disastrous impact on the elitist rulers and their administration than those led from above. Assad and his men know that it would be impossible to curtail the growing discontent in the country unless they yield in to most of the demands of the people.

The elitist will have to lose some power if they want to stay in power and pass it on to the masses to give rise to a fairer society. They will have to compromise and at times bend backwards to make new allies, give up the old ones and yield to the demands of the day if they hope to survive.

Assad knows the cards that lie on the table and it won’t be a surprise if he chooses to play them.

Also read: God, Syria and No Bashar

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I agree that people coup have far more affect and power than the coup at the top. I think the blog makes some good points.