Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Syria: Can a government be overthrown without the capital?

As we continue to read about disturbances with various degrees of organization and violence in the smaller towns and near the borders with other countries, it is striking that there are not substantial protests or anti-government activity in Damascus. Now, a few months after the protests started, a question arises, will the anti-government groups ever develop a capacity to stage large rallies in the capital and if not, can Assad be overthrown without that?
Syrian security forces and tanks have returned to the city of Hama, storming houses and arresting activists after giving protesters nearly free reign in the city for a month, allowing one of the largest protests of the uprising to take place there on Friday.
The Benghazi model, where territory is established that is secure from government control by the armed expulsion of state security forces and used to stage an armed rebellion only worked in Libya because Gaddafi had not felt a need to establish a strong security presence there before it was too late. This model can work, whether a government is popular or not, if the security presence is light. Syria, learning from Libya's mistake, will not have a light security presence in any potential rebel base in the country.

The Cairo model really depends on large protests and very small counter-protests in the largest city - both to demonstrate that their demands have popular support and to carry the threat of shutting down national life until their demands are met.

The safest bet regarding Syria over the next twelve months is still that the protest movement will exhaust itself before the government does. Over the medium term, Assad will have to get more votes than a competitive opposition candidate to remain in power, and to deserve to remain in power.

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