Right now there is an elite list of Middle Eastern dictatorships that have either collapsed in recent weeks   or are tottering rather badly  . To that illustrious list we can add Syria . Syria’s dictatorship, despite its relative longevity, is a weak dictatorship in terms of its popular support. The dictatorship (a strong ally of Iran  ) has as its base of support about 10% of the population of Syria, the Alawites. Another 10% of the population is made up of Kurds (the standard disenfranchised minority of the Middle East), and the rest of the population is largely Sunni.
In any democratic government, Syria would be ruled by a Sunni majority. Only through dictatorship does the Shi’ite-leaning minority control the country. For this reason Syria is like the mirror image of Bahrain in that both regimes are threatened by a hostile and restive minority population that has been oppressed for a long time and both depend on the use of force to preserve their despotic rule. The threat of Syrian democracy is an attack on Iran’s ability to reinforce its allies in Lebanon, and presents a fascinating opportunity for the Saudis and Egyptians to expand their power base (especially if the Arab democracy movement turns into a Muslim Brotherhood or more generally Islamist movement).
Iran’s armed support of the Syrian regime may jeopardize Iran’s position with Syria (and Lebanon) if the current unrest in Syria, which appears confined to the Sunni-dominated South sweeps across the nation. I imagine making common cause with the Kurds of the north might allow for some cross-border connections with Turkish and Iraqi Kurds ready and willing to attack one of their tormentors. Additionally, it may give Israel and Syria temporarily a common enemy they both wish to weaken (for their own reasons). This could be very complicated, and interesting.
At any rate, Syria’s deadly protests adds yet another nation where popular protests are threatening the stability of a corrupt and illegitimate dictatorship. Join the club, Syria.
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