Syrian Protests Become New Eye of the Arab Spring Storm
With news of the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi sweeping the world yesterday, Syrian protests against the government of Bashar Al-Assad have taken on renewed energy. This resurgence has drawn international attention, as they maneuver to become the next potential domino in the sequence of violent change sweeping the region. The Arab Spring has toppled three governments thus far. Syria would represent the fourth, and possibly most the significant; certainly the most difficult.
President Assad, who has ruled Syria since his father’s death in 2000, has built a regime noted for its iron-fisted policies on dissent, aggressive foreign policy, and careful cultivation of Syria’s economy. Protesters in Syria took to the streets seven months ago, inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Despite a brutal and widespread military crackdown, which is estimated to have cost over 3,000 lives thus far, their momentum has not abated.
The endurance and recent renewal of protests in Syria has been significant, but not decisive. Assad’s regime remains firmly entrenched, and despite some clashes, nothing like the widespread armed uprising in Libya has yet taken place.
In an effort to learn from their fellow protesters’ experience, though, a coalition of anti-regime groups announced the formation of the Syrian National Council in Ankara, Turkey, this month. They hope to garner international support, as the Libyan National Transitional Council did, and to produce a more organized approach for the protest movement.
More telling, perhaps, is the increasing distance being established between Iran and the Assad regime, long considered its closest ally. On Saturday Iranian state television released excerpts of an interview of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and CNN, in which the dubiously-elected potentate condemned the Assad regime’s use of violence against protesters.
“We condemn killings and massacre in Syria, whether it is security forces being killed or people and the opposition…We have a clear formula for Syria and that it is for all sides to sit together and reach an understanding… therefore these killings cannot solve any problems and in the long term it will lead to a deadlock,” he stated.
Ahmadinejad did not miss the opportunity to raise a warning finger to NATO, however. “When people are being killed, it paves the way for more quarrels… There should be no foreign interference,” he added.
The Syrian protests have strong parallels to Iran’s abortive Green Revolution, in which widespread protests against purported fraud in Ahmadinejad’s re-election crippled Iran’s economy and shut down many of its major cities for weeks. The Iranian president’s condemnation of Assad’s handling of the protests—which mirrors his own use of Basij militiamen in a violent crackdown against Iranian protesters—may be an effort to stem the spread of Arab Spring fervor to Iran.
Protests in Yemen also continue, despite increasingly aggressive use of military force in an effort to quell unrest. Both nations stand a will play a major part in the region’s increasingly unpredictable evolution.
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