Quiet Revolution in Syria?

Sakhr al-Makhadhi wrote an interesting peace in the Guardian yesterday about the impact of the 2005 Cedar Revolution on Syria. He writes,

If you want to understand the real impact of the events of March 14, look across the border at Syria. Lebanon’s neighbour is changing more every month than it did in an entire year back in the 1990s…

Five years on, those expecting regime implosions have been proven wrong. Assad is stronger now than he has been at any point during in his 10 years in power. Socially and economically, though, Syria is almost unrecognisable….

This new social and economic optimism is drawing back thousands of Syrian expats. The length of military service has been reduced, and it is easier for Syrians born abroad to gain exemption. There’s a Beirutisation of parts of Damascus, with the English language more common than Arabic on the upmarket streets of Shaalan. Private universities have been established, and they’re teaching – for the first time – in English.

It wasn’t Lebanon that changed following the so-called Cedar Revolution, it was Syria.

This is a well written article and touches on some interesting points. Al-Makhadi is based in Damascus and is obviously limited in how much he can criticize the government. However, it is a shame he doesn’t discuss the flip side of the social and economic revolution he describes: lack of political reform.

In the height of the Lebanon crisis, there was much talk of Bashar al-Assad ushering in a reformist ‘Jasmine Revolution’ at the 2005 Ba’ath Party Congress, but this came to nothing. Similarly, a few years ago Bashar himself spoke of introducing a second chamber of parliament to increase representation in Syria. Some even speculated that the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, who held covert talks with the regime, might be allowed ot return to form a ‘loyal opposition’ like the IAF in Jordan. Sadly, it appears like all these plans have been shelved. Though the wealth gap is growing and no-one seems to be talking about the drought anymore, Bashar’s economic policies in the wake of the Lebanon withdrawal are perceived as successful. But there is a downside to economic success: it further entrenches the vested interests and lessens the pressure for internal political reform.

When Bashar came to power Syrians hoped he would politically and economically reform Syria. 10 years into power, it seems he is 50% there. But what of political reform?

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