The wave of protests sweeping through the Arab world has not passed Syria by, but has sparked some demonstrations and attempts to organize large-scale protests. However, in contrast to the regimes of other Arab countries, the Syrian regime has so far managed to suppress the protest, and has in fact used the Middle East crisis to strengthen its position both inside and outside the country. The regime's firm grip is maintained through a years-long policy of attacking and squelching any opposition forces, which has been tightened even further in the recent weeks; a nearly absolute control of the media and the maintaining of media obscurity regarding events in the country; widespread deployment of the security forces and the harnessing of popular forces; and recent measures aimed at easing economic distress through financial benefits that severely stretch the national budget.
This report will review the regime's response to the Egypt events and to the awakening of the Syrian opposition.
Syria: The Egyptian Uprising Was Motivated by the Regime's Foreign Policy; No Motivation for Protests in Syria
The popular uprising in Egypt afforded Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad an opportunity to sideswipe Hosni Mubarak, his chief rival for the leadership of the Arab world, and at the same time to demonstrate the stability of his own regime. The main thrust of Syria's response to the protests has been to downplay the importance of economic distress and the demand for freedom as motivations for the uprising – aspects that are just as relevant in Syria – and to highlight Mubarak's cooperation with Israel and the U.S. against the resistance camp. This was depicted as the main reason for the people's dissatisfaction, even though it was not, in fact, one of the issues in the Egyptian protests. The Syrian regime thus wishes to convey the message, to its people and to other countries, that despite Syria's economic problems, the Syrian people have no cause to rebel, because their regime – unlike the Mubarak regime – faithfully represents their views and aspirations.