Cultural Revolutions

Road to Damascus

Unrest in Syria has discomforted rather than shaken the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.  It is an even bet that he will survive, which is preferable to any likely alternative.  There are several reasons he will not end up like Ben Ali or Mubarak.

Bashar is popular with a large segment of the population, especially among the young, who account for more than half of Syria’s 24 million people, and who have taken advantage of his political and economic liberalization over the past decade.  They see the termination of the decades-long state of emergency as a key symbolic step on Bashar’s reformist path.  They would be loath to see their country degraded into something more akin to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The mass rallies (March 29) in support of Bashar all over Syria were orchestrated by the government, but hundreds of thousands of mainly young and visibly enthusiastic participants could hardly have been coerced into joining them.

The alternative to Bashar—a fundamentalist Sunni regime controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood—also strikes horror into the hearts of Alawites, Druze, Christians, and secularists of all hues, who provide the bulk of government cadres and the growing middle class.  The dislike of a common enemy can be a powerful bond, and Syria’s assorted heterodox Muslims, secularists, and non-Muslim “infidels” know that they need to hang together with Bashar, or they...

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