This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 07/05/2011
For the seventh week in a row, the Syrian people's uprising against the regime has continued, without showing any indication of stopping or weakening, in fact the protests have spread to various geographic regions across Syria. This is something that reflects the strength of the protestors' momentum within the country, and the depth of the crisis that this regime, which is sinking in quicksand, is facing.
This Friday, dubbed the "Friday of Challenge" in Syria, saw new escalations, including previously seen phenomenon, but on a larger scale. We saw the huge number of hand-held banners being carried by the Syrian protests which personally denounced the Syrian president himself, not just his policy of suppression, or his political party. This means that the regime and the Syrian rebels have reached the point of no return, and we can no longer view the protestors as being a minority or belonging to a single sect. This is because the protest movement has taken root in all Syrian cities, including Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, and Hama, as well as the Kurdish region and other cities and regions, including even those that are majority Alawite.
What will the regime do now? Will it rule the people and protect the cities with tanks, and continue as a divided and weak regime, along the lines of the al-Bashir regime in Sudan, which split the country in two in order to stay in power? Will there be an internal coup from within the regime in order to set right what can be set right? Or will this "Friday of Challenge" continue week after week until the army splits – especially as there have been reports of clashes between the army and the security forces in Homs and other regions – and so will we see al-Assad's Syria following in the footsteps of Gaddafi's Libya? These are all good questions! It is clear that the Syrian regime does not understand what is happening, and indeed cannot believe that the people have risen up against it, something that reminds us of the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi's famous "Zenga Zenga" speech in which he addressed his people asking "what has happened to you? Why are you acting like this?" It seems that the Libyan regime does not understand that the rules of the game have changed, and that they can no longer govern through fear, in the same manner as Saddam Hussein, the other face of Baathism; this is something that indicates that the end is approaching.
The fact that the rules of the game have changed in Syria has now become clear, and today we have seen the people of Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus come out to protest against the Syrian government. The Syrian regime's suppression of protestors even included the suppression of religious figures, which may serve to further divide the army and security services. Following the protests in Aleppo, the city of merchants, as well as Damascus, and the Syrian regime arresting a prominent imam in the capital, and the protests now engulfing the rural areas, as well as the capital city, in addition to the recorded cases of mutiny in the army, what is left of the regime?
Therefore, protests have broken out in all of these cities, for the seventh consecutive week, and there is talk today about the disappearance of influential Syrian figures from the scene, not to mention the silence of others, particularly as almost everything we hear today is attributed to a military or security source, or a statement from the Syrian Interior Ministry. This is contrary to the normal Syrian mode of operation where the most prominent spokesperson for the Syrian regime was either the president himself, or his media representative Bouthaina Shaaban. All of this raises real questions about the extent of the cracks within the Sryian regime today, which has caused observers to feel as if a Syrian Communiqué No. 1 [along the lines of Communique No. 1 issued by the Egyptian army just days before Mubarak stepped down] has been issued without anybody realizing. Some faces have disappeared, to be replaced by ghostly "sources" and statements, and this raises more questions than answers, and serves as evidence that the Sryian regime itself is its own worst enemy, for it does not want to acknowledge the facts.