July 22, 2012
Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the Bashar Assad Baath regime in Syria? A large rebel force had advanced on the capital from three directions and loyalist troops are battling rebel forces in Damascus in an attempt to seize control of ground they had lost in the capital. Will the overthrow of this dictator allow the emergence of rising Islamist political power in Syria as has happened elsewhere in the Middle East with the so called "Arab Spring"?
Assad is the last representative of a political form that has dominated the Middle East for half a century. This form is that of the secular strongman, the dictator backed by a merciless intelligence apparatus that ruthlessly suppresses any revolts.
The Syrian regime violently represses the popular uprising, increasing sectarian tensions and radicalism, while sanctions erode the economy and weaken the middle class. The regime--a police state held together by fear and corruption ---- will stop at nothing to remain in power. There will be more massacres to come even though Assad is finished.
Paul Rogers at Open Democracy says that the ongoing violence (a civil war) has taken the form of proxy war. He observes:
There is now here is now abundant evidence that Saudi Arabia is leading the way in arming the rebels. The United States supports this process, and is deploying CIA personnel in eastern Turkey to help it along...Iran, the main ally of Damascus in the region, is doing its best on the other side to maintain the Syrian government in power.
The bleak Syrian situation opens up the question of where the Middle East is heading in the near future. A very likely scenario is for Syria to become a sectarian tinderbox that is Lebanon, rather than democratic, stable Syria.