The Libya Effect in Syria

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. The killing of Muammar Gaddafi is Libya gave new energy to anti-government rallies in Syria today, but the response to those rallies was the same that it has been, brutal government repression. Unconfirmed reports from Syria say several demonstrators were killed by security forces. The United Nations estimates that more than 3,000 Syrians have died in the crackdown over the past seven months. Demonstrators have been calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down since March. Joshua Landis is the Director of the Center For Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. He also publishes a blog that's called Syria Comment. How worried, Joshua Landis, do you think that President Assad of Syria should be today?

JOSHUA LANDIS: Well, I'm sure he didn't sleep well last night. The entire world will now be sharpening their knives for Syria. Syria, Yemen are the two authoritarian dictators yet to fall in this Arab Spring. Of course, the situation is very different, but it gave a big boost to the Syrian opposition. Amongst Alawites and others who defend the regime, of course, there was a great deal of anxiety. Friends of mine who saw the footage of Gaddafi being captured became very worried because this is the future for places like Syria.

MULLINS: Joshua, maybe you should mention more about the Alawites themselves and how this minority group, the same group as Bashar al-Assad is figuring into this. This is also Alawites make up most of the Syrian military. What's the significance of this?

LANDIS: The Alawites, in general, are implicated in this regime in a big way because much of the officer class and the security, the intelligence are made up of Alawites, and they're going to be targeted, and that's the big worry. My wife is an Alloite, and she woke up at 5:00 in the morning tossing and turning and worried about her father and their village and so forth and how to get them out. They're, of course, frightened to go to Damascus where they could get a VISA from the American Embassy because they don't want to drive on the streets anymore.

MULLINS: Wait, do they have reason to feel frightened, especially right now?

LANDIS: That's the big question is do they have... There have been a number of incidents of assassinations. When you look at Libya and you see entire towns of 30,000 emptied out because they helped Gaddafi, people aren't asking questions. They're shooting first, and that's the anxiety about the future of a country like Syria where you have big religious differences and people are lining up supporting the regime or against the regime based on that religion.

MULLINS: One of the things, let me just say this, that was working in favor of those who wanted a NATO type intervention in Libya, which is what happened, was that the Arab League was very much in support of it. In fact, Arab countries were working alongside NATO countries for this. Is that a possibility with regard to Syria?

LANDIS: The Arabs have condemned Syria. Turkey has condemned Syria, but Syria is 23 million people. Syria does not have a Benghazi, no high defections. There's nothing for the West to really latch onto and say this is going to win. This could prolong for years.

MULLINS: Why would the Arab League, for instance, come out against Gaddafi of Libya and call on him to leave power and not Assad of Syria?

LANDIS: Half of his country had fallen out of his control.

MULLINS: Libya.

LANDIS: There were major defections at every rank of the government. Everybody hated Gaddafi. He had tortured the Saudis, and in every Arab League meeting, he stood up and made fun of them. Bashar al-Assad is young. He's provoked the Saudis, but he's a key player in this region, and it's an ethnic civil war potentially. Tat scares people because it's right at their door and it's a big country of 23 million people. There could be lots of refugees. There's no oil money. The West has said we're not going to come in and get militarily involved. This could be a long process, and it scares a lot of people.

MULLINS: Joshua Landis teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics at the University of Oklahoma. He also blogs at Syria Comment. We'll make a link at TheWorld.org. Thank you very much.

LANDIS: It's a pleasure.

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