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Syrians support Assad

A rally of thousands took place in Damascus today in support of President Bashar al Assad, according to Al Jazeera.  This is one of those healthy instances where it is useful to step back and make sure what we think we know is right.  There have not been major protests against Damascus yet, and hardly any in Aleppo.  Much of the opposition to the Assad regime is coming from outside the country.  The army remains loyal.  Christians are firmly in the Assad camp.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nir Rosen, journalist and author, said: “We might not like to think that but authoritarian regimes sometimes have popular support.

“In the whole of the Arab countries, certainly the Syrian regime has the largest base of popular support and much of the country still supports him [Assad].

“Not only Alawite and the Christian community, but even Sunni Bourgeoisie in Damascus and Aleppo support President Assad.”

“They may be afraid of the unknown, or the civil war, or they may genuinely believe that Assad has done good stuff for the country.

I said last week that I agree with Russia and China’s decision to use their veto against a resolution designed to put pressure on the Syrian regime, and possibly provide a first step toward armed intervention.   Syria is, in the view of many in the West, illegitimate and repressive.  A key component to that being reason enough to pursue regime change is the narrative of Syrians feeling trapped and thirsting for change.  If you take away that narrative, or exchange it for one in which the majority of Syrians approve of the regime, then the legitimacy of an aggressive policy toward Syria is stolen away.  Agree? Disagree?

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2 Responses

  1. I completely disagree. The reason for aggressive policy is to reduce violence. Remember that in Rwanda the Hutus were by far the majority in the country, but that does that mean that it was right to allow the Hutu led government to kill thousands of Tutsis. Part of the responsibility of the international community is to protect citizens across the world that are being oppressed, regardless of the popularity of these actions inside the country. While this case is much less severe than that of Rwanda, that does not make it any more acceptable.

  2. I completely disagree, too, but from a different angle. I think the possibility of military intervention is approximately nil. Firstly because leaders aren’t going to risk their neck on another no-fly zone resolution when they’re still not sure how the first one is turning out. Secondly because Syria is nowhere near as ripe a target for the kind of non-army assistance NATO can provide from the air and sea; it has less coastline than Libya, the major cities are all inland except for Lattakia, etc. Thirdly, there is no major domestic support in Syria for intervention like there was in Libya.

    Part of that is what you’ve alluded to here, that the Syrian regime still has a lot of support. It definitely does. The military is battered but not fracturing, despite the defections. And crucially, the Christians and the Shia don’t necessarily love Assad, they fear what would happen to them if he was deposed.

    But even most opposition protesters still don’t want intervention. A few experienced opposition leaders who know they probably can’t win through peaceful means are talking about it, but it’s still an unpopular position. That might change as Assad proves durable.

    As for the pro-Assad demonstrations – don’t discount them, but Damascus is the seat of power for a reason. Many people there fear disruption of their relatively comfortable lives. They’re watched by the mukhabarat constantly, and have been for decades. It’s dangerous to start taking rallies as proof about how much support an autocrat really has.

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