Syrian activists bristle at the suggestion that their movement is dominated by Islamists, and say their revolution is no different from the one in Egypt, in which ordinary people spontaneously took to the streets to vent their frustrations with corruption, nepotism and the ruthlessness of the security forces.
“I feel disgusted by how the superpowers make these calculations based on their own interests, while my own people are dying on the streets,” said Mohammed Ali Atassi, a prominent journalist and filmmaker currently in Beirut.
“The Syrians will get their freedom, and we will decide, and the Americans and Europeans will have to accept our choice,” he said. “But in any case, democratically elected governments always go for a peaceful and rational foreign policy.”
Some analysts say there is indeed no reason to fear a transition in Syria, which has in any case long been blamed by the West for much of the instability plaguing the region. Predictions of the chaos that would ensue if the regime in Damascus were to fall “are way overexaggerated,” said Riad Kahwaji of the Dubai-based Institute for Gulf and Near East Military Analysis.
Syria has been implicated in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, hosts the remnants of Hussein’s Baath Party facilitating the insurgency in Iraq, and enables Iran to ship weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah through its territory. A new regime could prove far more moderate, Kahwaji said.
Yet Syria’s long history as the master manipulator of the Middle East may be another reason that the world is reluctant to alienate Assad. With its long record of sponsoring multiple, shadowy extremist groups in pursuit of foreign policy goals, the Syrian regime is also in a position to unleash considerable chaos across the region should it feel unduly threatened, analysts say.
And that, according to Khashan, the American University of Beirut professor, makes it unlikely the Syrian regime will fall. “Because, to tell the truth, no one wants it to fall, including Israel, the U.S. and the gulf states,” he said.