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How Syria dodged an Egypt-style 'day of rage'

Outside opposition groups had called for protests in Syria over the weekend. Why did only security forces and hopeful journalists show up?

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There has been no organized opposition in Syria since the quashing of secular, religious, and Kurdish figures who came together in 2005 to sign the Damascus Declaration asking for reform. Furthermore, most of the 15,000 who by Friday morning had joined the Facebook page calling for revolution were believed to live outside the country.

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Geopolitics aid the Syrian government, which is technically still at war with Israel and seeking to get back the occupied Golan Heights. The government's foreign policy, including a hostile stance toward Israel and support for militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, is popular.

“Syrians, repeatedly told of threats and conspiracy from outsiders, are more passionate about what is going on in Gaza than in Aleppo,” said Abdel Ayman Nour, a journalist who runs the critical website All4Syria. In the runup to protests, some media alleged that those calling for protests were Israeli saboteurs.

Relatively youthful, Assad, who has led Syria for a decade, is set apart from the region's older autocratic rulers such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. He is popular for modernizations, including introducing the Internet in 2001 and economic reforms that have seen shops and cafes flourish.

“I see progress being made, and want to give that a chance to see where it goes,” said one man in his thirties who described himself as anti-regime and asked not to be named.

The wave of unrest in the Arab world is being felt in Syria in other ways, however. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Assad said the region's protests signaled “a new era” in the Middle East and promised to push through reforms to strengthen civil society and introduce local elections.

Mr. Darwish, the activist, says he expected to see announcements on these issues during the next Baath Party congress, which is to take place in the next few months.

Joshua Landis, the author of the Syria Comment blog, said the pace of reform could affect future stability. “Syria has a growing population and life is getting harder,” he says. “This is not a situation that is endlessly sustainable.”

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