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A Spreading Revolt in Syria

Is Assad losing his grip?

Apr 25, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 31 • By TONY BADRAN
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At the same time, the regime’s propaganda played on the sectarian anxieties of the Alawites as well as those of the Christians, another minority. The regime claimed that in Baniyas a group of Sunni Islamists had declared jihad. As state-owned television showed footage of men dressed in Islamist garb driving around and shooting, security agents posing as scared civilians called in to the station to implore the government to save the city from “terrorists” by sending in the military. The armed forces command issued an ultimatum to the “terrorists” to surrender, or else the army would use “full force.” The echoes of Hama were deliberate. Syrian activists on Twitter were anticipating a major assault by the military. But nothing, no major, Hama-style assault was launched—not yet, anyway.

Maybe it’s because, as some speculate, the army is having a hard time managing its own divisions, sectarian and other. There are stories emerging that army officers have been shot for refusing to fire on civilians. In any case, as the regime tailors its self-defense according to the parameters and mores of the social media age, it will have to find a midway point, both brutal and controlled, manifesting the maximum amount of terror with the minimum amount of exposure. 

But what if it can’t? After all, at a certain point a line was crossed, and the Syrian population not only stopped being afraid but instead drew strength and courage from each other. The Syrian uprising is no longer a regional affair, but a national one. Thus, it is driving the regime into a corner where, fighting for its life, it will have no choice but to pull out all the stops. Nonetheless, it appears that in this post-Hama moment, old-fashioned repression might not work. 

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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