Amid mass arrests throughout Syria, the partisans of President Bashar al Assad now believe that they have gained the upper hand over the burgeoning protest movement. That may be true, although this seems far from being a foregone conclusion. But repression will not solve Mr al Assad’s dilemma: his regime has shown itself to be utterly incapable of reforming, so the forcible silencing of Syrian society may lead only to an extended, debilitating stalemate that leaves the country’s problems unresolved, and irresolvable.
When the uprising in Syria began earlier this year, foreign governments urged Mr al Assad to introduce reforms. However, in the Syrian context, reform is shorthand for the collapse of the Assad-controlled order. If the leadership was to implement reform by opening up the political system and allowing free elections, permitting independent media, introducing the rule of law, ending the paramount role of the Baath Party and cutting the powers of the myriad security agencies, that would be tantamount to political suicide. Mr al Assad never had any intention of taking such measures, and will not do so at present, especially if he crushes the revolt.