There was no coverage of Libya’s rebel forces taking over great parts of Tripoli in the Monday edition of Syria’s Tishreen, the national daily.
With the curtain appearing to fall on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s reign, political analysts are now looking towards Syria and the impact this will have on Bashar al-Assad, one of the last Arab dictators standing.
Though Assad took power in 2000, his father’s Baathist regime has been in charge since 1970 – just a year after Gaddafi took charge in Libya. In both countries, the family power structure and the secret service apparatus take precedence over everything else.
Assad now seems to be buying time.
On Sunday, he gave an interview on state television. In a wood-panelled office reminiscent of American talk shows, he warned against foreign meddling and announced parliamentary reforms, which he has scheduled for February 2012.
“We are at a transitional stage and we will follow up on the laws,” said Assad. “There will be elections and a review of the constitution… The most important thing at this stage is to continue dialogue.”
This week, he is also letting in a UN delegation to investigate alleged massacres.
Whatever the Syrian president says on television, there is little doubt that the opposition, now in its fifth month of protest, is going to feel vindicated by this week’s events in Libya. While they do not have Nato’s might to back them, the idea of a Turkish-led military intervention is being floated around; members of Syria’s opposition are also meeting in Turkey this week to appoint an executive council.
The regime’s growing isolation from Arab states and former allies like Turkey and Hamas will bolster the opposition’s legitimacy. In an unexpected twist, Iran’s ambassador has also packed up, with the excuse that he might run for parliamentary elections back home.
But in Aleppo and Damascus, it is still a waiting game for the urban middle and upper classes, who fear they have much to lose from a regime change. “Whereas in Libya, I felt the uprising was a popular movement that spread throughout the country, in Syria the majority is still silent,” says a Damascene businessman, who believes the future could potentially be worse if Assad was to leave. “I’m only for change if we can be assured of a peaceful transition. If you look at Egypt or Libya right now, there are too many unknowns.”
The opposition is going to have to go on a PR drive to win over this “silent majority”. However ruthless the old Baathist regime might appear, in the end, economic arguments will probably be the decisive factor for risk-averse Syrians.