Syrians in the town of Deraa have overthrown a statue of the late dictator Hafez Assad, father of the present dictator Bashar Assad. This heroic feat brings to mind the tremendous moment in Baghdad when the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled. The difference is that American forces brought down Saddam, while the Syrians themselves have smashed this vainglorious statue. Their bravery is immense. This is a moment which Syrians will speak about to their children and grandchildren.
What will happen next? Bashar is in a quandary, and his confusion shows. On the one hand he is promising reform, offering to raise salaries for those already in his pay and releasing political prisoners. Like Qaddafi, he is staging demonstrations in support but these crowds are either Alawis like himself or fodder paid to turn out and shout. And on the other hand, his security forces are shooting in Deraa and apparently other towns too. They are using automatic weapons and snatching protesters. Nobody knows how many have been killed and arrested. Repression is fueling rage.
Around Bashar are his relations and cronies who form the Baath Party, the single party that is the core of this loathsome and murderous regime. It is a certainty that they are prepared to kill as many thousands as required to crush the country. We will be told by Bashar and his mouthpieces that the protestors are “armed gangs,” or vicious Sunni Islamists or Kurdish nationalists, anything except people trampled on for as long as anyone can remember.
The outcome will affect world politics. Bashar’s Syria is a danger to peace, to its neighbors, to the United States, to the Arab future. Our understanding of the world as well as our humanity are being put to the test.