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Syria’s Agony

MADRID – The English author and priest William Ralph Inge once said that “A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he cannot sit on it.” Syria’s Assad dynasty, however, seems to believe that it can defy that dictum.

Historically, few autocrats have understood that change produced peacefully by government is the most viable conservative solution to popular demands, and the best way to avoid violent revolution. This is the wisdom that Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh all failed to learn. It is the central lesson of the Arab Spring, and one that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has bloodily ignored.

A country whose weight in Middle East politics has stemmed more from its role as an engine of the Arab-Israeli conflict than from its objective military or economic power, Syria under the Assads always feared that abandoning ideological confrontation with the Zionist enemy would undermine the regime. Indeed, pundits explained Syria’s initial immunity to the Arab Spring by pointing to the regime’s staunch defense of Arab dignity, reflected in its resolute hostility towards Israel.

But, as the younger Assad has been forced to recognize, times have changed. The new Arab generation’s quest for dignity is rooted in a yearning for decent government and civil rights that was long denied under the pretext of conflict with the Zionist crusaders.