Opposition groups in Syria are calling for a “Friday of Martyrs” on April 1st, in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s ludicrous speech today, in which he claimed that his nation’s ills were the result of a global conspiracy.
“It is not a secret now that Syria is being subject to a conspiracy,” al-Assad said. “The timing and shape depends on what is happening in other Arab countries.” He did not elaborate. An entire nation rolled its eyes.
Through the looking glass of Syrian politics, however, al-Assad’s speech was widely seen as a sign of presidential confidence. He did not lift an “emergency law” that has been in effect since 1963 and which is widely despised by Syrians everywhere. He didn’t give an inch on “political reforms” and stated unequivocally that his first priority was “stability.” In Syria, stability means (roughly speaking) “shoot to kill.”
It is no idle threat. In 1982, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood rose up in opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s father’s regime. Hafez al-Assad responded by massacring between 10,000 and 30,000 Syrian Muslim Brothers in the city of Hama; one of the bloodiest crackdowns in Middle Eastern history. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has never forgotten that day and to this day remains chary of open political resistance.
Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is by far the most powerful underground political organisation in Syria. If they decide to get behind the “Friday of Martyrs” then the challenge to Bashar al-Assad’s regime will be acute. If they decide to take a pass, then it probably won’t amount to much more than your everyday bloody Friday.
Given everything else that is going on in the Middle East, most of the western powers (at least for now) are hoping that al-Assad succeeds in putting down his domestic opposition.. Even Israel finds itself rooting for his survival. Under Assad – as well as under his father before him – Syria has been Israel’s most stable border. The prospect of a fundamentalist group – like the Muslim Brotherhood – rising to power is not one Israelis wish to contemplate or deal with any time soon.
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