Another Domino Wobbles

The Washington Post reports that President Bashar Assad of Syria is planning to move his country in a more democratic direction:

Beset by U.S. attempts to isolate his country and facing popular expectations of change, Syrian President Bashar Assad will move to begin legalizing political parties, purge the ruling Baath Party, sponsor free municipal elections in 2007 and formally endorse a market economy, according to officials, diplomats and analysts.

Assad’s five-year-old government is heralding the reforms as a turning point in a long-promised campaign of liberalizing a state that, while far less dictatorial than Iraq under Saddam Hussein, remains one of the region’s most repressive. His officials see the moves, however tentative and drawn out, as the start of a transitional period that will lead to a more liberal, democratic Syria.

Emboldened opposition leaders, many of whom openly support pressure by the United States even if they mistrust its intentions, said the measures were the last gasp of a government staggering after its hasty and embarrassing troop withdrawal last month from neighboring Lebanon.

Assad’s never been as much of a hardliner as his father, and Syria’s being influenced by the nacent democracies in Lebanon and Iraq, both of which are having an influence. The question is if Assad is serious about democratization and if the hardliners in the Syrian military will be able to accept the changes.

Certainly there’s a growing pro-democracy movement within Syria, a movement which is only gaining support as the rest of the Middle East begins transitioning from authoritarian rule to embracing democracy.

As Glenn Reynolds astutely points out, democratization is a process, not an event. It will take years for the Middle East to become truly democratic, and there will be roadblocks, moments of tension, and some setbacks. Yet what we’re seeing is truly the beginnings of a grass-roots democratic movement across the Middle East. The fall of Saddam has directly contributed to an atmosphere in which Arab democracy is no longer a contradiction in terms. As the dominos continue to fall in the region it has become clear that the Middle East is no longer the Gordian knot that it once was, and the “impossible” dream of democracy overcoming autocracy in the region is being realized right in front of us all.

2 thoughts on “Another Domino Wobbles

  1. Assad doesn’t also seem to have the same fervor for a personality cult as his father. His pictures were not so abundant when I was in Aleppo. Although you could still see a lot of his father’s pictures about in public areas. Another interesting thing about Bashar is that you can buy his portrait at the Aleppo souq for about half the price of a comparable portrait of his father. Syria has some things going for it, namely that it is a fairly religiously tolerant society (part of this being helped by the onslaught against the muslim brotherhood in 1983).

    A real question is if he will allow non-Alawites into power. I met a Syrian political refugee in Istanbul last month and he told me it was impossible to join the Assad inner circle is you are anything but Alawite muslim. This is an encouraging sign from Assad. He’s an ugly man with a face for dentistry as opposed to political limelight. Perhaps that’s why his picture is not as prevelant in Aleppo’s public squares as his father’s. Time will tell if Syria changes..

  2. Hopefully this will actually come to something, but I remain skeptical. At the same time, authoritarian transitions to democracy are often the most successful kind (see Taiwan, South Korea, Chile, Spain…) so there is reason to guess that Syria is moving in the right direction.

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