What Will Happen in Syria?

The regime’s concessions have not managed to quell the unrest.

Syria's president Bashar al-Assad is interviewed by reporters of The Wall Street Journal, January 2011
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad is interviewed by reporters of The Wall Street Journal, January 2011 (Carole AlFarah)

In another effort to disarm the anti-government protests in his country, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new cabinet on Thursday and ordered the release of political prisoners. His moves echo the response of fellow Arab autocrats to the unprecedented wave of civil unrest that has swept the Middle East since February.

Assad has also blamed foreign infiltrators for instigating the violence in his country in which at least several hundreds of people have died. His regime does not appear to be crumbling down while demonstrations continue to be suppressed with heavy force.

Despite the violence and the regime’s latest gestures, protesters on Friday did not tone down their demands for political reform. The cabinet has little actual power in Syria while the release of detainees excluded activists who had supposedly committed crimes “against the nation and the citizens.”

Given the standoff, what is the likeliest outcome in Syria? Wikistrat’s latest CoreGap Weekly Bulletin notes that the West is reluctant to intervene, fearful of what civil strife could ensue if the regime collapses. Without a significant boost in support of Syria’s protesters, whether foreign or domestic, it seems doubtful that they could force Assad out of office.

Fearful of future persecution, few Syrians dare take to the streets as it is. As long as the military remains loyal and intact and willing to shoot at protesters, the crowds stand little change of fomenting regime change.

At the same time, Syrians’ dissatisfaction with their government probably runs much deeper than the demonstrations in public would have observers believe. It may be why the regime is offering concessions — to prevent the protests from spreading.

The most realistic scenario in Wikistrat‘s Syrian Regime Stability simulation, where analysts from around the world explore the potential outcomes, interests and policy options with regard to the recent unrest, is probably that Assad’s regime survives but remains unstable. A police state inherently is, even a police state as Syria’s where security services have the stomach for harsh and ruthless suppression of dissent.

There mere fact that protests could happen and be broadcast exposed that instability to both Syrians and the rest of the world. Even if the regime survives, the people know now — or have been reminded — that it is not invulnerable.

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