Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Has Bashar Assad Learned From Mubarak?

I don't know if the recent events in Syria will lead to regime change on the scale of what happened in Tunisia or Egypt. But judging from the way in which Mr. Assad has handled the protests, and the speech he delivered on Wednesday, it appears that he has not taken advantage of the opportunity to learn from Ben Ali's and Mubarak's mistakes.

Especially given the clumsy way in which Mubarak addressed the Egyptian protesters demands, one would think Assad could be a bit more tactful. Mubarak would repeatedly invoke foreign conspiracies and the vendettas of certain satellite television channels to belittle the demands of the protesters. He also thought that the excessive use of force would be able to squash the uprising before it reached its tipping point (remember those camels racing through Tahrir square?). He also frequently cited the 'progress' that Egypt had been making over the years in terms of economic and political reform, although always careful to throw in the caveat that it needed to happen quicker. Needless to say, that strategy did not fare well for him.

So how bizarre, then, to see Assad apparently following the same strategy. So far, the excessive use of force on the Syrian protesters in Dara'a have ended up generating more protests throughout the country. The hinting of vague, modest reforms sometime in the future will surely not satisfy the protester's demands. Rather, it will likely ensure that the protesters increase their demands. After all, that's been the pattern we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

So how will Assad deal with these protests that are increasingly gathering strength throughout Syria? What lessons has he drawn from Ben Ali and Mubarak? Judging from yesterday's speech, one wonders if he has squandered the opportunity of having almost three whole months to prepare for this moment.

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