Is Syria the Next Domino?

LONDON – With the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes gone and street protests roiling cities from Algiers to Tehran, many people are now wondering which domino might fall next. Syria, whose secular, militarized dictatorship most closely resembles the fallen regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, may not be next in line, but appears nonetheless to be approaching a tipping point.

Of course, the old “domino theory” in international relations was only a crude way of emphasizing that different parts of any region are linked to each other. For today’s Arab world, a better metaphor might be a chessboard, from which the removal of even a pawn inevitably alters the relationships among all the other pieces.

Today, as protests mount and multiply, the government of every Arab state in the Middle East and North Africa probably believes that, if left to its own devices, it can contain internal dissent.

In Syria, it seems inevitable that protest may soon crack the regime’s brittle political immobility. Most ordinary Syrians face extremely difficult economic and social conditions, including high unemployment, rising food prices, constraints on personal freedom, and endemic corruption. These factors are no different from those that brought people on to the streets in North Africa and the Middle East. What began as protests over living conditions became full-scale demands for freedom and democracy.