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Assad regime may be gaining upper hand in Syria

One indication of Syria's confidence is that it has not yet attempted to wreak havoc regionally – a tactic it has employed in the past when feeling threatened.

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The Syrian authorities claim the graffiti is written by Sunnis and indicate the fate of minorities in Syria if the Assad regime is replaced by a state run by Islamic extremists. The opposition, however, maintains the slogans are daubed by Syrian intelligence agents to incite sectarian ill-feeling and to rally the support of minority sects for the regime.

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Since Assad announced a reform package three weeks ago, the regime has used force to try and suppress the street protests. It set a May 15 deadline for the surrender of all those who have committed “unlawful acts.” As of last week, the two sides appeared to have reached a stalemate. The opposition was refusing to back down, but the protest movement seemed to be having difficulties gaining greater momentum. The two key cities of Damascus and Aleppo generally have remained quiet.

Assad regime remains confident

Rifaat Eid, the leader of the small Alawite community in Tripoli in north Lebanon, says that an indication of the regime’s confidence that it could overcome the rebellion is that it has not yet played its regional cards. Mr. Eid was referring to the sometimes malevolent influence that Syria can exert over its neighbors, including Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel.

“Syria could open the border with Iraq to jihadists, it has influence with Hamas and Hezbollah. It has many cards to play in Lebanon, but the regime has not used any of them which shows that it is confident,” he says.

Even if the regime is able to break the back of the current uprising, Assad will find himself ruling over a changed Syria and facing a serious dilemma, analysts say.

If he introduces meaningful reforms – such as ending the monopoly of the ruling Baath Party, permitting the establishment of political parties, holding regular free and fair elections, curbing the pervasive intelligence apparatus – he risks undermining the regime’s grip on power.

However, if Assad stalls on the reform package, the protests will likely resume and could even turn violent as frustration deepens.

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