Three factors that will determine Syria’s future

Much of the analysis of the crisis in Syria looks at the upheaval through a binary lens: Either Bashar al-Assad manages to defeat his political opponents and his regime survives, or the regime collapses and a new political leadership takes control of the country.

But there is a third, increasingly more realistic, possibility – quagmire, says Benedetta Berti, a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv University. That means prolonged internal violence under a weakened and failing – but neither defeated nor failed – Assad regime. 

Under this framework, a better question to ask about Syria’s future would be: How long can a regime function in this “failing state limbo,” and how long can it endure massive internal violence before imploding?

In Syria, the answer depends on these three main factors: 

1. Strength and cohesion of the regime

AP Photo
Anti-regime protesters hold up a Syrian Army defector as they chant slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an evening protest in Homs province, central Syria, Jan. 30.

President Assad can count on a relatively strong and united regime and, specifically, he can count on the loyalty of the Army and coercive apparatus. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian military and security branches are closely identified with and connected to the regime. The potential downfall of Mr. Assad directly threatens their own status and power, giving them a strong incentive to continue backing him.

Similarly, the patronage networks created in the past decades by the minority Alawite rulers now serve as an additional incentive for security personnel and government officials alike to stand by the regime. In this sense, the regime is still strong and internally cohesive, despite some defections from the security and policy offices.

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