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Peter Goodspeed: Syrian violence raises the stakes on Arab upheaval (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) 03/28/11)Source: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/03/28/peter-goodspeed-syrian-violence-raises-the-stakes-on-arab-upheaval/ NATIONAL POST NATIONAL POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Syria, the heartland of the Middle East, bordering Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, is being ravaged by protests because 15 children in the southern city of Daraa spray painted the words “The People want the fall of the regime” on a wall.

The arrest of the graffiti artists earlier this month by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security police touched off weeks of escalating public protests that have left nearly 65 people dead and an entire region convulsed with fear.

The violence that is sweeping Syria has the potential to be much worse than anything seen in the Middle East since rebellion raised its head in Tunisia in December.

In Syria, there is none of the inevitable sense of hope that filled Egypt’s Tahrir Square or the shocked sense of indignation that came with the first civilian deaths in Libya. The current regime in Syria is already drenched in blood. For decades Mr. Assad‘s Syria has ranked among the region’s most repressive governments, operating under a 47-year-old state of emergency that gives police unlimited powers of arrest and detention.

This is the regime that crushed a Sunni Islamist revolt in the north central city of Hama in 1982 by murdering more than 25,000 civilians, while executing prisoners and using tanks and artillery to level entire neighbourhoods in Syria’s fourth largest city.

It is the same regime that a special United Nations tribunal is reportedly poised to blame, along with Hezbollah, for the 2005 car bomb murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Syria, under Mr. Assad, was the major entry point for the Islamist jihadists from around the world who turned Iraq into a charnel house after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. Syria is also home to the leaders of Hamas and other violent Palestinian terror groups, as well as the chief arms supplier for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There is nothing inevitable about the Arab world’s march towards democracy in Syria, even if the same ingredients that brought down Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisa and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt are present there in spades. Repression, corruption, family rule and fear are all starkly present in Syria. But so too is a ruthless determination to cling to power at any cost.

That should worry the west.

If Mr. Assad seeks to crush his own people on the same scale as his father did in 1982, what is the west going to do, especially now that it has already undertaken to bomb Libya’s dictator Col. Muammar Gaddhafi out of power for doing the same thing? (© 2011 National Post Inc. 03/28/11)

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