Potential Hot Spots: Massive Use Of Terror In Syria

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August 1, 2011:  Despite killing nearly 2,000 protestors, wounding over 10,000 and arresting over 20,000, the demonstrations continue. The government keeps increasing the intensity of their attacks on the population, refusing to allow democracy. The savagery of the government response has elicited growing criticism from Turkey, several European nations and the United States. But the Syrian minority government is not backing down. Growing efforts to identify and arrest protest leaders has not halted the demonstrations. When leaders are arrested, others step in to keep the resistance going. In the last week alone, some 5,000 people have been arrested. The protests keep happening. The government is running out of places to keep the prisoners.

The army is concerned about the loyalty of the army. With at least half the Syrian 400,000 security forces (police and army) of uncertain reliability, the government is using the 100,000 or so reliable killers (mainly Republican Guard and secret police, plus Hezbollah gunmen from Lebanon and security specialists from Iran) to terrorize (and slaughter, if need be) those civilians who continue to oppose the government. This is a risky strategy, because if enough less reliable troops and police shoot back, it's all over for the dictatorship. But the government hard-liners, led by the president's brother (Maher Assad), have won the argument over how to handle the unrest. There's no going back from this. Iran continues to send in more security experts, and perhaps trained killers as well. More Hezbollah gunmen continue to arrive from Lebanon. The Assad clan apparently is ready for a fight to the death.

  Syrian dictator Bashir Assad came to power a decade ago, promising reform. But while there was some more economic freedom, Syria remained a dictatorship dominated by the Assad family, the Alawite minority and the Baath Party. Bashir has now demonstrated that he can be as brutal and ruthless as his father, whose signature repressive act was the 1982 destruction of a town held by Sunni Islamic radicals. That attack crushed the Sunni opposition. Hafez Assad was not challenged for the remaining 18 years of his life, and he died in bed, with his son Bashir succeeding him. But that was a more tyrant-friendly time. The Arab Spring has made it clear that democracy is now the preferred method of governing. Bashir believes that old-school violence will crush the opposition. Bashir has the tools to apply lots of pain.

The police state, perfected by the 20th century communists, was designed to keep democrats, and other threats, from overturning a dictatorship. The Assads, and the Baath Party, learned from the Russians (when they ruled the Soviet Union from 1922-91), as did most other Arab dictators. Actually, many of the communist techniques were ancient (secret police, informer network), and the Arab tyrants had some ancient techniques (nepotism) that the communists had tried to discard. However, communist and traditional police states still had a major weakness; poor economic performance. In the 21st century, with its pervasive media and social networking, that has become a fatal distraction. Dictators stay in power by being feared, not loved. But when the population grows angrier and angrier about their poverty and lack of opportunity, they develop something worth dying for.

Police states are now under more pressure because of the growing popular unrest, and Syria is a test of whether the traditional means of repression will work. In economic terms, only about ten percent of the population benefit from a dictatorship. This fraction of the population supplies the manpower for the secret police (about 50,000 full-timers on the payroll) and the leadership of the armed forces (300,000 troops and 100,000 paramilitary, the majority of them Sunni, led by largely Alawite officers.) The Alawites are five percent of the population. Sunni Arabs are about 75 percent. Other minorities (Shia, Druze, Christian) will, up to a point, side with the Alawites (a common pattern in the Middle East, where non-Sunni minorities have long been persecuted).

The Alawites fear retribution, and for good reason. The Alawites have used terror to maintain power for decades. Most Syrians have good reason to hate the Alawites, as well as all those (mostly other minorities) who have supported the government. While some of the protestors are minorities, most of them are Sunnis. Al Qaeda, which is basically a radical Sunni group, is trying to hijack the revolution, without much success. Syrian Sunnis saw the carnage caused by al Qaeda next door in Iraq, and want no part of that.

July 31, 2011: Thousands of troops moved into Hama, and several other rebellious towns, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians as they did do. This was apparently being done in an attempt to crush the resistance before the holy month of Ramadan begins on August 1st. The troops used tanks to fire, seemingly at random, at houses and buildings. There was no organized enemy for the troops to attack, so they attacked everyone. It was a large scale act of terror. The attacks occurred throughout the country, including on the Iraqi border and in the outskirts of the capital.

July 30, 2011: Another attack damaged the oil pipeline in the east, in an attempt to cut oil sales revenue that keeps the government in business. The tourist industry, which accounts for about ten percent of GDP, has already collapsed, depriving the government of tax revenue. It's expected that the GDP will shrink at least three percent this year, and maybe much more as the economic disruptions increase. Before that, economic reforms had led to annual economic growth of five percent a year.

July 29, 2011: For the 17th time, thousands of Syrians demonstrated throughout the country on Friday, to call for democracy and an end to the police state. But the police state is moving into high gear, with more and more raids and arrests of suspected protest leaders.

July 27, 2011: Al Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, declared support for Syria’s pro-democracy demonstrators. Al Qaeda is unpopular in Syria, and al Qaeda has long proclaimed that democracy is un-Islamic. But al Qaeda needs publicity wherever they can get it.

July 25, 2011: The government has offered to pass a law allowing political parties. For decades, only the Baath Party was allowed to exist. This offer is not likely to work, because Syrians believe that new parties would be greatly restricted.

July 24, 2011: In Lebanon, pro-and anti-Assad groups clashed again. In Syria, the governor of Homs province was fired, after the army crushed armed resistance in the city of Homs. The violence lasted two days. The violence included armed attacks on military targets.

July 23, 2011:  Near the city of Homs, railroad tracks were damaged and a train derailed as a result (killing one and injuring a dozen.)

 

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