Three scenarios for Syria
Thomas Cromwell

The bloodshed in Syria goes on with no end in sight. President Bashar Al Assad and his ruling Aleuwite clique are hoping that the brutal oppression that has kept the Assad family in power for decades will serve them once again. The opposition, encouraged by successful revolts against entrenched power in Tunisia and Egypt, hope that its perseverance in the face of guns, tanks and torture will deliver liberation from tyranny.

But Syria is not like either Tunisia or Egypt. The Aleuwite sect accounts for only some 16 percent of the Syrian population, while 75 percent is Sunni Muslim and the remainder are other minorities, including Christians, Druze and Kurds.

Hafez Al Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist from 1970 through his death in 2000, elevated the role of Aleuwites at the expense of other groups, putting them in key positions of the government and military. Bashar, once the object of hopes that a reformer had come to power, has been little more than a puppet of the Aleuwite ruling class, extending his fatherís legacy of brutal rule into the new century, albeit with an image softened particularly by his English wife born of Syrian parents.

With rebellion having first raised its head in Deraa, a town on the Jordanian border, and then spread to other cities, including most recently Hama, where Assad senior made a point of killing some 10,000 restive Muslim Brotherhood members in 1982 and then bulldozed the areas that he believed were nests of Sunni opposition.†

Week after week now, Friday noon prayers have been followed by angry men, and some women, pouring into the streets of Syriaís cities to voice their opposition to the regime. Week after week the government has responded with attacks by heavily armed security forces, police and the army, now reinforced by tanks.†

One has to give all due credit to the brave people of Syria. Whatever their political or religious affiliations, demonstrating against the Assad regime is putting your life at risk. All Syrians know of the murdered citizens, the torture chambers, the broken bodies and ruined lives of those the state has deemed its enemies.

Expect no mercy in Assadís Syria. The British-educated doctor metes out pain and death to his own people with the same determination that made his father a rival to Saddam Hussein as the most brutal dictator in the Middle East.

In the calculus of tyrants, the options are not good for the Assads. They know that should they fall from power that they can expect the same ruthless treatment from the rulers that replace them as they became famous for dishing out during their decades in power.

The United States and the European Union issue one call after another for Bashar Al Assad to be more humane, to stop shooting and torturing his people. These calls are ignored. So are the calls of erstwhile allies, such as Russia. The Syrian elites, centered on the Assad clan, know that none of these foreign powers can save them from the wrath of their own people should they lose their grip on power.

There are three likely scenarios for Syria.

The first is that the Assad regime prevails once more and that the Aleuwite cadres in the army, security forces and police remain loyal to the president and his family. In this scenario the relentless crackdown will eventually break the will of the opposition and Syria will return to its uneasy, pre-revolt stability.

The second is that those in the Assad regime with sufficient resources and connections outside of the country decide they cannot prevail against the will of their people, and flee into exile. The Aleuwite minority that remains can expect a long dark winter of oppression to ensue, and it is likely a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime will emerge. The Aleuwites have used the trappings of a secular state, officially ruled by leftwing Baathists, as a key to their power. As in Iraq, the Baathist ideology has long since proven irrelevant, but Syriaís religious Muslims are likely to offer themselves as a better alternative to Baathism.

The third scenario is that the opposition grows ever stronger, that it starts to acquire weapons that enable it to match those of the regime, and that it is able to mount a full-blown military challenge to the regime. This would be similar to the Libyan situation today and we can expect it to be just as destructive and bloody.

No one knows for sure how many Syrians have paid with their lives during this uprising. International media are barred from providing coverage, and only leaked video clips and opposition statements on the casualties provide any sense of the terror being rained on the people. Certainly, the dead likely number in the thousands.

Unlike in Libya, however, where the West bumbled into military action against the barbarisms of Colonel Qaddafi without a clear objective, and has been paying the price in drawn out conflict since, no international military intervention is likely to happen in Syria. The situation is simply too complicated and dangerous. The Assads know this and they know the world is distracted by a host of problems of its own.†

But the regime should not assume it can continue its reign of terror in the dark forever. The Syrian people themselves know full well what the Assads have done to them and their country. They will not forget and they will eventually rid themselves of this tyrannical dynasty.

The rest of the world should spare no opportunity to speak out clearly and forcefully against the outrages being committed against the Syrian people by its government, and the international community should use every non-military weapon in its arsenal to help bring about an end to the Assad regime.