Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Damascus Spring-let?
This from ArabicNews highlighting the reaction of the Syria Civil Society Revival Committees to the Assad regime's decision (No. 408) to "separate" the Baath Party from the Executive branch.

This effectively means that the Baath Party will no longer have the state apparatus in a full-nelson. How likely is Syrian President Bashar Assad to succeed? His father tried implementing the decision, but failed. In a sense, Bashar may be doing this the wrong way around: generally when bureaucracies become major headaches, the best option is to circumvent them, preferably through the private sector. That's sort of what Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri tried to do after 1991, though he spoiled the whole thing by becoming the prime dispenser of private-sector patronage.

Assad, however, wants to weaken the Baath apparatus, but offers no substitute or parallel structure to replace it. Up to now, SYrian private-sector reforms have been advancing at a snail's pace. Plus, Assad continues to rely heavily on the intelligence services and the Baath to impose his writ. This gives both the security services and the party an incentive to collaborate in blocking presidential reforms.

In a nutshell, Syria may very simply be incapable of domestic reform. Once change becomes serious, Assad becomes irrelevant, much like Gorbachev.

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