Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Revolutions are born when certain political, economic and social ingredients coalesce to generate the energy necessary to remove oppressive dictatorships. In the case of Syria, most of the ingredients are in place.

First and foremost are three ingredients that Professor Jonathan Adelman of Denver University describes as historically important for a revolution to begin.

The intelligentsia must take a stand against the regime when writing about the state of the affairs in the country. In Syria, we have seen in the last six months a crescendo of criticism by some of the most important writers expressing disillusion about the future of Syria under the Ba’ath Party, whose ideology remains stuck in the 1950s. Some of these intellectuals, like Dr. Hussein Oudat, have been imprisoned as a result.

Another sign of an impeding revolution is the financial distress of a nation. For Syria, it started when coalition forces, during the Iraq War, shut off Iraqi oil supplies to Syria. Moreover, Syria’s exit from Lebanon will diminish Syrian remittances by up to $4 billion annually. Finally, the Syria Accountability Act is having a negative impact on the Syrian economy.

Another crucial component deals with the breakdown of the elites. In Syria today, the elites are represented by the Allawite families who have supported the Assad regime and, in return, benefited greatly from that support; they are also represented by the Sunni-based traditional business community.

The Allawite families are the last wall of defense for Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

Although Mr. Assad’s fall would be problematic for their stature, blind support would be disastrous for the whole community; their own intelligentsia is expressing that concern by slowly admitting to past mistakes and opening a new chapter in their relations with the Syrian people. However, the majority of Allawites today suffer from the malaise gripping Syrians in general and want to see a democratic Syria emerge that is able to differentiate between those who killed and those who suffered like the rest of the Syrians.

Among the traditional Sunni-based business groups, we are watching, in slow motion, the peeling off of their backing of the Assad regime because of Syria’s policies in Iraq that are hurting any prospect for a better economy.

They are starting to exert pressure on the regime by mobilizing their assets overseas, in a peaceful way, to erect a democratic alternative.

Another professor, Jack Goldstone of George Mason University, believes that two more ingredients are necessary to complete the circle. One is upward mobility for youth and the other is the emergence of a dual authority.

Young people, in general, are courageous, have no considerable net worth to be concerned with, and are ideology-driven. When they know that their upward mobility is thwarted, they either emigrate or simmer, waiting to start a revolution. In Syria, out of 300,000 students graduating every year, the government is able to absorb only about 100,000. A small percentage immigrates to places like Australia and other Arab countries, but the majority is unemployed, simmering underneath for the right moment to rise.

The emergence of a dual authority is the only ingredient that has not materialized in Syria but will soon because of a significant leadership vacuum. As a result of fear and intimidation exerted by the Syrian intelligence services, the Syrian people whisper the names of future leaders behind closed doors, but they are not yet ready to paste pictures of these leaders in alleys, in shops or walls of their homes. The day they do, it will be the end of the black history of the Assad dynasty.

Given the dynamics of Syrian society today, this Syrian regime will not last another six months. Can the United States be fully prepared for the fall or are we asleep at the helm like we were in 1979 during the Iran Revolution? The United States must, in order to cushion the fall of the Assad regime, take immediate action today to prop up the opposition, to help its image by supporting human rights in Syria and to call for freedom and democracy for the people of Syria. Syrians are ready for a revolution and democracy whether we like it or not.

Farid N. Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria.

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