Quelling raging Syrian protests - Sami Moubayed - April 19, 2011

Combating the crisis that erupted in the town of Daraa in southern Syria was similar to extinguishing a small fire. At the initial stage, a small fire can be extinguished with a swift pat of the hand — before it becomes too strong. If that is not done immediately, one has to put it out with a glass — or jar — of water. If one delays the response further, it takes a big fire extinguisher and the fire can also burn the house down.
The crisis in Syria, on Day 1, could have been solved with a swift pat of the hand. All it required was the sacking and arrest of the governor of Daraa, along with those who opened fire at the demonstrators, and reforms related to the city's economy and day-to-day life. Declaring three days of mourning over lost lives, for example, would have been a wise gesture appreciated by the residents of Daraa.
When authorities were late, the fire began to grow to other cities, requiring more radical reforms like the lifting of emergency law, ending one-party rule, sacking the cabinet, and granting citizenship to the Kurds. By now, however, one month down the road, the fire is dangerous, fierce and spreading all around the forest.
On Friday, authorities did the right thing by not shooting or arresting any of the demonstrators in different parts of Syria. That created a new mood, inspiring demonstrators to come out in larger numbers, now confident that they will not get harmed. That change seemed to fit in nicely with a presidential address on April 16, on the eve of Syria's 65th Independence Day.
President Bashar Al Assad said that a political party law was in the works, allowing for pluralism, and accountability would prevail in the new cabinet of Prime Minister Adel Safar.
The new party law effectively challenges and eventually ends the Baath Party's constitutional right as ‘leader of state and society'. Lifting of emergency law means no more arrests without a court warrant.
Legal experts have began studying the laws in Great Britain, the US and France, trying to hammer out a Syrian law that protects peaceful demonstrators if and when they abide by state rules, like applying for permission before staging a demonstration, and not resorting to arms while demonstrating.
Challenge for security
Wages have been increased by 30 per cent, the Naji Al Otari cabinet has been sacked and unpopular ministers and governors have been removed.
Last Thursday, Al Assad met a delegation of notables from Daraa, and promised that they could demonstrate as they pleased and nobody would be persecuted by authorities. On Friday, the locals did just that — to make sure that the president's word would be kept. The day went by without any casualties which, undoubtedly, inspired people to come out on Sunday night, in larger numbers — demonstrating until their demands are met. The weekend ended, however, on a very sad note. People died, yet again, with the government saying they had been fired at by armed gangs in the town of Tabliseh near Homs. The new mood has created an obvious challenge for Syrian security.
Will they tolerate large demonstrations in the street, awaiting the lifting of emergency law? And if the numbers get too large, will security know how to handle them? Depending on how fast these reforms go into effect, and how authentic they are, the demonstrations will either slowly wither off or snowball into massive numbers. In his speech on Saturday, Al Assad said that once the reforms come into effect, there would no longer be any reason for the demonstrations to take place.
Currently, Syrian society is divided into three segments. The first, a small minority — not exceeding 5 per cent — sees that no reforms are needed, claiming that Syria today is heaven on earth. The second, accounting for 90 per cent of the population, is divided between being neutral and pro-Al Assad. They simply want to go along with their day-to-day lives, tremendously valuing their security and stability.
They want economic and political reforms but by no means are they eying regime change in Syria. Far from it, they happen to genuinely like the president, seeing him as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem in Syria. They are still betting on Al Assad to carry out the much needed reforms promised since mid-March. The third group (also a small minority) wants to bring down the regime, like in Egypt and Tunisia. TV networks have been interviewing the small minority, infuriating ordinary Syrians who are saying that this 5 per cent does not speak for all of Syria.
Life back to normal
At this stage, the 90 per cent majority still has the upper hand. This is because that majority includes the heavyweight cities of Damascus and Aleppo, the traditional elite, their moderate religious leaders, the urban bourgeoisie and the powerful mercantile communities.
A critical mass on the street in both cities is close to impossible — simply because, Damascus and Aleppo do not want regime change. This might explain why hours after the president's speech on Saturday, life immediately returned to normal in both cities: restaurants began to fill up, traffic was heavy, young people went out shopping or headed to cinemas for a night out. These cities, by virtue of being business centres, value stability and security more than political change.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Damascus, Syria.

Source : http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/quelling-raging-syrian-protests-1.795603

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