Assad hopes sit-and-wait strategy will wear out an unorganized opposition | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 10.05.2011
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Assad hopes sit-and-wait strategy will wear out an unorganized opposition

Syria's government believes it has finally won the upper hand over protesters, an adviser to President Assad told the New York Times. It's a sign that the regime feels it can outlast the protests and global criticism.

Anti-Assad protests in Syria

Syria's leader expects the protests to lose steam

An optimistic President Bashar al-Assad in an interview with a government-friendly newspaper on Monday promised reforms once again and a swift end to the crisis in Syria. Just a day later, Assad's adviser repeated the same message in an interview with the New York Times. The end is near - not of the regime, but of the uprising in various cities - Bouthaina Shaaban told the paper. All that happened in Syria so far, according to her, should be interpreted as an opportunity for political progress.

The opposition, those who actually take to the streets for real progress in Syria and for seven weeks now have risked their lives, probably won't believe these announcements by the government. According to the opposition, between 600 and 800 people have been killed during the protests so far. Between 7,000 and 8,000 political protesters have been imprisoned.

But despite weeks of protest, it is still unclear who the opposition really is and whether a unified opposition movement even exists. George Jabbour, a Syrian political expert, doubts that one can even speak of a coherent opposition.

"Some argue for human rights, democracy and similar issues, but others seem well armed and follow their own goals," Jabbour said. "I have no idea whether there is a connection between both groups. And then there are also those disgruntled former politicians who have a bone to pick with the regime."

Official government spin

It's all armed gangs and foreign interference: that's the official reading of the uprising pushed by the regime.

President Assad

Assad has repeatedly promised reforms, but not much has happened

That some armed protesters have indeed joined the street rallies can't be excluded. But it's clear that the overwhelming majority taking to the streets - despite the heavily armed security and intelligence apparatus and the army - is unarmed. And what they want after more than 40 years of suppression is more political freedom and an end to the fear from an all powerful state.

But it isn't all Syrians that form the opposition movement. Especially the urban middle class in Damascus and Aleppo remains silent and is scared of a chaos-like situation like in Iraq.

The Syrian resistance is organized predominantly from abroad. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have left the country over the past decades because they were either faced with prison at home or going into exile.

Left alone

This fact complicates the analysis of the events on the ground in Syria. According to Hilal Kashan, a professor of political science at the American University in Beirut, the Syrian demonstrators are essentially left to their own devices.

"The protest in Syria for over 50 years has lacked a real organization," Kashan said. "The political leadership has systematically destroyed any kind of civil society. We are witnessing mostly spontaneous demonstrations. The opposition has no leadership. That's why I don't see how they could take over the country politically."

Syrian anti-government protesters carry a banner during a rally in the central city of Homs, Syria

Syrian protesters appeal for international support

Despite verbal protests from abroad, President Assad believes he remains fully in control of the situation. Unlike in Libya, the West won't intervene and sanctions against the Syrian leadership, but not against Assad, won't faze the regime much.

The UN's plans to visit Daraa, the place where the protests originally began were denied. The fact that a New York Times reporter was allowed into the country for a few hours was a tactically calculated ploy by the Syrian regime to send the message that everything is under control via the media. Other journalists are still not allowed into Syria. Their coverage of the situation in Syria is still undesirable.

Author: Ulrich Leidholdt / mik
Editor: Sabina Casagrande

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