Since March, the uprising against Syrian president Bashar Assad’s authoritarian regime has gathered steam every Friday, as Syrians pour forth from their mosques and other meeting places and take to the streets to demonstrate against Assad’s rule.
Ramadan, the monthlong celebration starting on the week of Aug. 1, will string 30 such days together in a row, a prospect that must be daunting for a regime astonished that its murders, tortures, collective punishments and mass detentions have not yet silenced the opposition.
Even as Assad’s security services and paramilitary forces moved from city to city to put down the uprising, the opposition gathered steam. When snipers picked off the townspeople of Deraa, Baniyas stood up; when tanks and artillery fired on Homs, Hama took to the streets. In Deir al-Zour, Bou Kamal, Latakia and many other Syrian cities, the opposition has lit up like a string of lights encircling the regime.
Assad’s ruthless campaign against the country’s peaceful opposition is thus also a march against time and space, a war that he cannot win. No one knows for sure when the regime will fall. Maybe Assad will survive Ramadan. But it is unlikely he can outlast an opposition that shows few signs of fatigue or fear after almost five months of rebellion.
On the international front, from Jerusalem and Riyadh to Paris and Ankara, the assessment is that Assad is doomed. Even the White House has shown signs of giving up on a regime long seen as a cornerstone of Middle East policy. U.S. ambassador Robert Ford traveled to Hama to show solidarity with the protesters. After pro-Assad activists retaliated by attacking the American embassy, Hillary Clinton declared that, from the American perspective, the regime had lost legitimacy.
Recent days, however, brought mixed signals from the administration, sowing confusion even while Damascus girds itself for more war against its own people. President Barack Obama softened Clinton’s position by saying Assad was increasingly losing legitimacy in the eyes of his own people. And a White House spokesman said the administration is still looking to pressure Assad to “meet the aspirations of the Syrian people.”
It may be understandable that the president does not wish to be pacesetter of change in Syria. Not all of Syria has gone to the streets. But the opposition has already made its stance clear, by peacefully braving the regime’s depredations for nearly half a year. Assad does not have their consent to rule them and he will never have it. So let’s be clear: The uprising in Syria is becoming one of the central events of the young century.
To talk about social media and the Arab Spring is to miss the significance of what’s happening. Facebook and Twitter have only made clear to young Syrians what they’re in store for when they take to the streets. Bashar has killed thousands already. Who knows what the future has in store?
It is the remarkable opposition that has made Syria matter. Now is the time for Obama to commit America to stand with a peaceful movement that is undoing an authoritarian regime that is a state sponsor of terror and a proxy for the larger threat of Iran.
Lee Smith is senior editor of The Weekly Standard, where this article appeared.