That’s the question Josh Landis asks on his blog Syria Comment (one of the best sources of information and analysis on that country). He’s pessimistic for Syria. I am too, no matter what the denouement of the popular uprising there. We all know that the Ba’athists are thugs and always have been, and that no regime that fires live ammunition on unarmed demonstrators has any legitimacy to remain in power. Not that what’s happening in Syria is anything new, of course: cf. Hama in ’82 (for the anecdote, I went through the center of Hama in 1985 and saw the huge vacant lot in the center of the city, the densely populated quartier, now razed, where thousands were killed by the regime three years earlier; what was particularly chilling was that it was as if the regime wanted people to see it, as a message of the consequences of opposition). But I’m nervous about regime change in Syria, as I have a hard time imagining that whatever replaces the current gang would somehow be an improvement. If regime change were to bring about an end to the alliance with Iran and Hizbullah, that would incontestably be a good thing, but for me the bottom line is the future of Syria’s Christian community. If a consequence of regime change is the exodus of Syria’s Christians, that would be a disaster, for Syria and the region. I do not hesitate to say that it is the large Christian population in Damascus that makes it a great city, a city that I love (and would live in over Beirut without hesitation). Damascus is a such a vibrant, civilized place, which bustles past 10 PM and with groups of unveiled women sitting in outside cafés in the old city smoking nargiles. Inconceivable in Algiers, or even in Tunis and Casablanca. But this is such because of the Christians, and who give cover to Muslim women. Without the Christians, Damascus becomes Homs. Not that my sentiment on this matters one way or the other, but I do not wish for this.
More recent links: Top flight Syria specialist Steve Heydemann has a radio interview here on Syria’s “family business.” And Aaron David Miller, one of the best analysts of US Middle East policy, explains the Obama administration’s stance toward Syria.
(above photo: mine, taken last year in Damascus’ Souk al-Hamadiyah)