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Why the Syrian crisis is not like Egypt or Libya

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I've been reading Juan Cole's site to stay up on what's going on in the Middle East (among others). And I found this comment by guest columnist Søren Schmidt interesting (my emphasis and paragraphing):
Syria is neither Egypt nor Libya – and the conflict can therefore not be solved as it was in Egypt and Libya respectively.

The conflict in Syria worsens with each day that passes, and by now more than 20,000 people have been killed. At the same time, the parties are more keenly opposed than ever. The regime will have to go in the long run, but nobody knows how to get rid of it and get started on a democracy.

In Egypt, Mubarak was defeated by the mobilization of large masses of people demonstrating in Tahrir Square. In the confrontation between the regime and the masses of people, it was the regime that blinked first. The military quite simply did not have the stomach to beat back so many people, and in one fell swoop the regime’s authority vanished.

In Libya, Gaddafi was so isolated in his own country that the Libyans were able to defeat him militarily with a little help from the West.

But neither of these solutions can be applied in Syria, for two reasons.

First of all, the situation in Syria is a proper civil war between the country’s Sunni majority (65%) and the Alawi minority (10%) that the Assad clan belongs to; while the remaining minorities (Christians, Druze, Kurds and Shia: 25%) either support the regime or keep themselves on the sidelines.

Since the conflict can not be described, as it was in Egypt or Libya, only as a conflict between the regime and the people, but also between two parties, each of which represents an important social force, the opposition is not able to challenge the regime through mass mobilization.
Please read the rest. There's much more going on in the current Middle East crisis than this — it's a multi-party game that includes U.S. interests (including oil), Islamic fundamentalist sentiment, in-state rebellions, Al Qaeda groups of various stripes and flags, local political parties and power-struggles, distrust of Western (and U.S.) intentions and interventionism, and so much more.

For example, there's this, from later in the same piece:
Syria is an important link in the so-called resistance alliance, which in addition to Syria consists of Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah in a deterrence alliance against Israel.

Syria’s alliance partners will therefore do whatever they can to prevent pro-Israel, Western powers from taking out an important link in this alliance.
What's going on region-wide is important and complex. But Syria is a special case, and the article provides a good baseline to start your thinking from.

Don't think binarily about Syria — regime vs. people — no matter how tempting that is (or how tempted you are by mainstream media to go that way). Syria has a political party aspect, a tribal aspect, and a defense-against-Israel aspect as well.


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