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Could Syria see an uprising like Egypt's? Not likely.

In Syria, opposition activists are organizing their own 'day of rage' – but longstanding intimidation tactics and repression make it unlikely significant numbers will be out on the streets.

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“Authorities continued to broadly violate the civil and political rights of its citizens, arresting political and human rights activists, censoring websites, detaining bloggers, and imposing travel bans,” said a report on Syria’s human rights policy in 2010 released by Human Rights Watch last week.

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Why change is slow to come

When Assad succeeded his father, Hafez, in 2000, many Syrians expected a process of political liberalization to follow. But changes have been slow, with the focus on gradual economic reforms rather than political freedoms.

The traumatic and bloody developments in the region over the past decade also have done little to hasten a speedier transition. Syria’s backing of anti-Israel resistance movements, such as Lebanon’s militant Shiite group Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, as well as its long-standing strategic relationship with Iran, placed it at odds with the US. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the mass demonstrations in Beirut two years later, which led to Syria pulling its troops from Lebanon, further isolated Damascus and placed it on the defensive.

Still, unlike the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, no one can accuse Assad of being a lackey of the West, which gives him a degree of credibility in the eyes of many Syrians and Arabs of other countries. Furthermore, his relative youth (he is 45 years old) stands in marked contrast to many of the ossified kings and presidents elsewhere in the Arab world.

“By successfully supporting Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements and by opening Syria’s borders to over a million Iraqi refugees, Assad helped boost Syria’s sense of national pride,” says Camille Alexandre Otrakji, a Syrian blogger and author of www.creativesyria.com, a web forum for Syrian culture and politics. “Mubarak, the president of the largest Arab country, humiliated his proud people by consistently appearing to be nothing more than an American and Israeli puppet.”

Still, Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist with the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that support for anti-Israel groups and standing up to the US, “doesn’t work well where the regime is weakest: skyrocketing corruption and lack of reforms.”

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