Streams

Syrian Liberation or Civil War?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Men throw stones at riot police during clashes in the Mediterranean coastal town of Banias, on May 27, 2011, as Syria braced for more anti-government protests, called for by pro-reform activists. (AFP/Getty Images/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies, Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, and author of the Syria Comment newsletter, discussed the latest news from Syria, a meeting in Turkey of the opposition groups, and the Syrian government's response.

The uprising in Syria shows no sign of dissipating despite intense firepower and repression from the government. Human rights groups put the death toll at 1,000 and the recent death of a 13 year old boy and allegations that he had been tortured reignited the opposition's call for President Bashar Al-Assad to step down. (The government maintains the boy was not tortured--either way, he has become a symbol for the opposition).

The Syrians are left with a terrible choice, a Hobbesian choice between dictatorship, the lack of freedom on the one hand, and what looks like could become a much more difficult civil war on the other hand. And it's hard to see how a middle ground—a constitutional convention, the president resigning and leaving the country—can happen. We're watching Yemen descend into what looks like a civil war, Libya already has, so the Syrians have a terrible choice on their hands.

Civil war vs. Tahrir (Liberation)

The Syrian government says if they are overthrown the country will devolve into civil war like Iraq and Lebanon, and they won't allow it. The protesters are calling for democracy and the end of tyranny. Landis said it's very hard to tell which of the conflicting narratives is true.

The opposition and much of the international media has presented this as Syrian people: Democrats, against Tyrant. The Syrian government is presenting this as these are fundamentalists, trouble makers who are trying to destroy our country and our being stimulated by outside powers, and they're trying to ruin Syria and turn it into Iraq.  None of those version are true--they're partly true.

The Syrian population is extremely diverse and doesn't have a great history of getting along. That's a very different scenario than in Egypt or Tunisia where the vast majority is Sunni Arab. Most of the minorities in Syria—Christians and Alawites (the Shiite Muslim sect to which Al-Assad belongs) which make up about a quarter of the population, are backing the regime.

By and large the minorities are clinging to this government because they see it as secular, as protecting them, it's privileged them in the past. They don't want Sunni fundamentalists that they fear. Whether that fear is legitimate, who knows.

It's about the economy, stupid

A staggering forty eight percent of the population in Syria is 19 years old or younger, and the Syrian economy has basically failed them. Though Al-Assad has opened up the economy more than his father, it's achieved only a five percent growth rate.

That means that there's this rapid population growth, giant youth bubble, no employment, no prospects for the future. Forty years of failed policies, forty years of dictatorship. They want a change. There are plenty of good democrats--but will it turn into a democracy? That's the big question--what is the likely scenario for the future?

The two-tiered opposition movement

On Wednesday, about 200 opposition leaders got together in Turkey to discuss how to get Assad out of power. It was a mix of established opposition movement leaders who have been long excluded in Syria—Kurds, Muslim Brotherhood—and the young people in their 20s and 30s who are working with social media to lead the movement on the ground.

Down the line there's going to be a tussle between these different generations, with different mentalities, different outlooks. They're trying to avoid that tussle.

Landis said that the U.S. and European strategy seems to be to isolate Syria internationally. Britain is alleging that Syria is breaking their nuclear non-proliferation agreement, the E.U. has cut off all aid to Syria, ad the U.S. has place Assad and the top ten people in the Syrian government under personal sanctions.

Increasingly the west is beginning to think, how can we get the Assad regime out. They don't want to send army, the best way to do it then is to use international organizations like the UN sanctions to squeeze the Syrians and the Syrian economy until it busts, and then hope that something else comes out of it besides civil war.

Tags:

More in:

News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [3]

HYAN MOUALLA from New Mexico

Great talk with Joshua Landis. He got most things right. I am Syrian with family and friends back home. There are few legitimate opposition people but the majority of chaos on the ground, the shooting and killing is driven by violent militant groups who are extremists and behaving in a way that has nothing to do with democracy seekers (triggering religious killing, destroying public and private property etc)

Jun. 02 2011 01:38 PM
Andy B. from NYC

A couple of months ago, "Vogue" magazine ran a puff piece on the wife of the Syrian dictator making her seem like some kind of Lady Diana or Jackie Kennedy roaming around a fairytale paradise of a country doing charity for an adoring public.

I would like to see WNYC grill someone from Vogue on that disgusting article.

Jun. 02 2011 11:28 AM
Economontreal from Montreal Canada

Tell guest no such thing as "Hobbesian Choice" the correct term is Hobson's choice.

Jun. 02 2011 11:16 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.

Sponsored

About It's A Free Country ®

Archive of It's A Free Country articles and posts. Visit the It's A Free Country Home Page for lots more.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at revsonfoundation.org.

Feeds

Supported by