Until recently, Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad was seen as the dictator who succeeded in stopping the domino effect of Arab revolutions, which started from Tunisia at the end of 2010 and subsequently spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Iraq. The regime did not hesitate to use all means necessary to stop the Syrian revolution and prevent its overthrow, including the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, as well as resorting to the use of sectarian militias and foreign armies.
The results were overwhelming. Most of Syria’s infrastructure has been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed, and millions of people have either become refugees or displaced persons. Demographic engineering has been carried out on a large-scale across Syria and the country has lost its strategic facilities to Russia and Iran. The situation in Syria has been used as a scarecrow by other Arab regimes to intimidate their people and caution them against revolt, lest they suffer the fate of millions of Syrians.
While these countries helped, and indeed continue to help, Al-Assad expand his control and speed up the process of re-enforcing his regime’s control, it seems they have accepted Al-Assad’s “victory”. This is accompanied by the rushing of several Arab regimes, specifically Gulf regimes, to strengthen relations with the Syrian regime, considering Al-Assad to have prevented the spread of revolution and broken the will of the people to overthrow their governments.
However, recent events in Sudan and Algeria undermine the myth of Al-Assad stopping the spread of revolution and confirm that it will not stop here. This raises the fears of the Syrian regime, once again, of losing more friends, on one hand, and preparing for the possibility of a new dynamic forming in North Africa, restarting the domino effect that will reach Syria sooner or later.
Algeria, for example, is one of the few countries that supported Al-Assad’s regime, a position that led it to refuse its support the Arab League’s decision to freeze Syria’s membership. It also voted against condemning Al-Assad’s regime and its crimes in the UN General Assembly, and is against an international investigation to hold it accountable. The Sudanese president, Omar Al-Bashir, meanwhile, visited Al-Assad in December 2018 in a gesture of support understood as the beginning of Arab normalisation with Al-Assad.
While some believe that recent developments in Algeria, Sudan and Libya are in the interest of the Saudi-Emirati axis, in my opinion it is very early to reach such a conclusion. If, for the sake of argument, we were to accept this belief, we must note that it ignores three very important facts for Al-Assad. First, the people no longer accept the existence of such regimes, in which the leader is considered a god and does not leave his position until death. Second, the ability of leaders to resist has become weak. Thirdly, these revolutions have learned some lessons from their predecessors and no longer accept the military seizing control of the government in the name of protecting the revolution.
These facts will not be a source of comfort for Al-Assad. While Syrians have grown tired of destruction and killing, the regime having exhausted them, the possibility of forcing them back to the past situation is now harder than ever. Given the regime’s control over more land, it will face major challenges regarding how to govern and manage these areas, particularly amid growing indications of its inability to meet their security needs. Moreover, the second wave of revolutions confirms the fact that Al-Assad’s remaining in power will not be easily accepted and that the Egypt and Syria models are no longer acceptable. These facts also indicate that the battle in the countries which witnessed the first wave of revolutions is not yet over.
This article first appeared in Arabic on Al Arab on 16 April.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.