March 16, 2012

ALL OVER BUT THE ALAWITE EXODUS:

Time for Talks in Syria Has Passed (DARON ACEMOGLU AND JAMES ROBINSON, 3/15/12, Why Nations Fail)

This path has been mostly shaped, and the possibility of reform shut out, by the underlying logic of the regime Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, created in 1970. On the face of it this was a one party state under the control of the Ba'ath Party which came to power in Syria via a military coup in 1963. Though the Ba'ath Party, which also brought us Saddam Hussian in Iraq, espoused a nationalist Pan-Arab ideology with heavy tinges of socialism, the reality in Syria is that it became a vehicle for a particular Syrian community, the Alawis. The Alawis, who comprise around 10% of the Syrian population concentrated in the northwest, adhere to a particular interpretation of Islam. On assuming power in 1963 the Ba'athists, already dominated by Alawis, inherited a state molded by centuries of imperialism under the Ottoman Empire and a rather shorter span of French colonialism between 1920 and 1946. This state sat atop a set of extractive economic institutions, designed to enable the extraction of resources by a small minority from the rest of society. During the Ottoman and French times, this minority comprised the colonial powers as well as its allies in Syria. Under the Ba'athist rule, it comprised mainly the Alawis.

These extractive economic institutions have several consequences. One of the most important is poverty. No society which organizes the economy to benefit just 10% of the population will generate prosperity. To grow and become prosperous the most critical thing a society must do is to harness its talent and human potential which is widely disbursed in the population. Though post-independence Syrian regimes have invested in education, heavily laced with propaganda, only those with the rights connections stand to benefit from a government appointment or having the chance to open a business.

A second set of implications is political. Extractive economic institutions do not exist in a vacuum. They need to be supported by extractive political institutions, concentrating power in the hands of the same narrow elite controlling the economy, and stripping away any constraints on the use of this political power. The logic is simple: how else would the elite convince the rest of society to go alone with this extraction? It is thus no coincidences that Syria ended up with a repressive dictatorship in which the same elites controlled all levers of power. Despite all that repression, extractive political institutions are not fully stable. An obvious source of instability is that when institutions are extractive those at the top do very well from the extraction. This means that other people would like to replace them and benefit from the extraction themselves. This is one way to think about the transition from Ottoman to French, and then to Ba'athist and Alawi rule. Any of these groups could have changed the organization of society away from extraction, but they saw it in their interests not to. All that extraction creates deep-rooted grievances and resentment in society as people wish to change the institutions which block their chances and aspirations. [...]

[T]he genie is out of the bottle. The regime cannot survive given the mobilization of society. There is no clear timetable when it will be toppled. Next year this time, it may still be in power, but if so, its ability to control many areas will have been much diminished; we are now probably in the final act of the Assad regime.
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Posted by at March 16, 2012 6:25 AM
  

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