A somewhat random update.
- I’d missed this earlier, but when Bashar Al-Assad ended the emergency law he also abolished the Supreme State Security Court, which was the judicial arm of the secret police.
- The author of the Syria News Wire, writing in Channel 4 news, makes the argument that Bashar is not really in control of the Syrian government, nor of its response to the protesters. One diplomat describes Syria as “a dictatorship without a dictator,” and the author argues that Bashar’s brother Maher–who commands the 4th Army Division that has been at the heart of the crackdown–is the one responsible for the decision to come down hard. That squares with other information I’ve heard. So I’m not alone in thinking it’s still possible that Bashar is a real reformer, just one who’s not in a strong enough position to move fast and hard against certain elements in his own government. But here’s a dissenting view, arguing that he uses the image of a reformer as a political strategy, while failing to deliver.
- I heard a report that Damascus was quiet. The regime had successfully quelled protests there and people were going about their normal lives, with restaurants and cafes as busy as usual. That was before last Friday, when protesters staged Sabbath-day protests in multiple cities, including Damascus. Is keeping control over the capital just a symbolic issue, or does it have real practical significance for a regime? Does seeing protests in the capital give protesters elsewhere a boost?
- Crackdowns in mountain towns in on the Lebanese border have led to hundreds, perhaps thousands, fleeing to Lebanon for refuge. Lebanon is letting them in so far. The mountain regions have a several thousand year history of being where people hide out to avoid whoever is in power at the time (independent evidence for James Scott’s Zomia thesis).
- However three Syrian soldiers who fled to Lebanon after helping refugees get safely across the border have been arrested, and may have been returned to Syria (according to an <a href="http://www.yalibnan.com/2011/05/17/2-syrian-soldiers-handed-over-to-syria-report/" unconfirmed report”).
- There are reports of a mass grave containing the bodies of 13 protesters in Dera’a, which has been the epicenter of the protests. The government denies the claim.
- Europe is putting sanctions on Syria, too. They have more influence than the U.S., but these sanctions are likely to be purely symbolic, with little effect, too.
- Here and here are two interesting brief radio interviews that suggest the regime will survive–there are too few protesters and too much fear, not just of the regime but of sectarian violence if it collapses.