October 21, 2005


Damning report puts Syria on edge: Citizens grow anxious as they await world's response and regime's reaction (MARK MACKINNON, October 21, 2005, Toronto Globe and Mail)

Anwar al-Bunni watched with envy this spring as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took over the streets of Beirut, protesting against the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and demanding an end to 29 years of Syrian meddling in their country.

Now, Mr. al-Bunni believes Mr. Hariri's untimely death is about to turn his native Syria on its head as well. But unlike in Lebanon, where the masses were the ones driving change, ordinary Syrians, too cowed by the security services to go into the streets, know they have no control over what happens next. [...]

Mr. al-Bunni, a prominent human-rights lawyer and opposition activist who recently wrote a draft constitution for a democratic Syria, believes that as a result of the UN report, "many things will start to happen. This type of regime cannot be accepted in the world after this. Regimes like this have no future."

But even as Mr. al-Bunni and other members of Syria's tiny pro-democracy movement hope that the report will bring dramatic change to their country, they're worried about what might happen if the United States and France, who are jointly leading the effort to punish the regime, push Mr. Assad too far.

Mr. al-Bunni, who has made powerful enemies by publicizing the cases of some of the thousands of political prisoners in Syrian jails, recently got a reminder of how ruthlessly the security services here deal with their opponents.

He hid for 10 days after a bizarre incident in which he is alleged to have shoved a female client who was demanding her money back. He feared that the incident, which occurred after an unprecedented opposition call for democracy, would be used by the authorities to jail him for an extended period.

He emerged only this week after getting the charges against him dropped, and still had the look of a wanted man, with greasy hair and an unshaven face.

"The problem is what the regime's reaction [to international pressures] will be," he said. "If they find themselves in a corner, they could take all Syrians hostage in front of the international community."

The debate between Washington and Paris is over how hard to push Syria, and how fast.

Having predicted that the regime would fall this year, I'd appreciate it if they'd go just a bit harder and faster...

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 21, 2005 4:02 PM
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