The tipping point in Syria’s awakening?
The Arab Awakening is the event of 2011. It is obvious that there is not only one form of Arab Awakening, but many, and with events still unfolding, a pattern is emerging. Awakenings have split into two groups: Tunisia and Egypt are on one side, Yemen and Libya on the other. In the first group, political change requires Internet access, social media and mass demonstrations. In the second group, it takes a group of army defectors, a safe haven for their operation and some form of insurgency. Syria looked like it was in group one. Judging from the news of the past week, the Syrian Awakening looks like it has reached a tipping point, shifting into Awakening-group two. Today, I will talk about what this means in the long-term.
Let me start by giving the complete list of the Libyanization of the Syrian Awakening. Firstly, the Assad Clan’s brutal response to street demonstrations, mostly in rural areas. That means that the famous globalized middle class of Arab Awakenings is not yet there in Syria. Secondly, a Free Syrian Army whose leadership is said to be safely headquartered in refugee camps on Turkey’s side of the border. I seem to remember that the division of armed forces is essential in literature on overthrowing your government. Sound familiar?
Thirdly, a machine gun and grenade attack against an Air Force intelligence complex near Damascus on Wednesday morning. Reports underline the coordinated nature of attacks on various checkpoints. So not only are there army defectors based on camps on the Turkish side of the border, namely the Free Syrian Army, but they also have operational capacity inside the heart of the Assad regime, Damascus. All the elements of Libya are there.
The emphasis of these last two items in news reports mark Syria’s entry into a new phase. Let me rephrase: Someone wants Syrians to see that we are at the tipping point of the Awakening. The Arab League ultimatum of this week also fits nicely. All this considered, we might be at the beginning of a long and tiresome transformation process.
In the pattern taking shape, Arab Awakenings are destined to be messy. Messier, for example, than Turkey’s transformation. No matter where you are in the spectrum of Arab Awakenings, political transformation will precede economic transformation. That tends to be messier than the other way around. Economic reforms coming before political transformation make the latter happen smoothly.
An Iranian colleague was writing a report on Turkey’s economic transformation some years ago. He came to Ankara, asked me about our policy reforms, the timing of liberalization measures, and their failures and successes. These were the 1980 policy reforms of President Özal. About to leave, he said he had one more question: “Can you name any unintended consequence of the economic transformation process?” This was right after the first election victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Look who is in power now,” I said. “The periphery has moved to the center. This is political transformation that followed the economic transformation. Political transformation through the ballot box. Smooth!”
Let me finish with two short comments: Firstly, the Özal reforms of 1980 were first designed and implemented under military rule. Secondly, Iran has not started a similar liberalization process yet. They should.