Esther Pan of the Council on Foreign Relations writes often about
Author: Esther Pan, Staff Writer
April 26, 2006
Last fall, the weight of international pressure fell hard on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,
What is the current political situation in
Assad's government is cracking down on dissent, jailing activists, stifling critics, and forbidding opposition figures to travel to international conferences or meet exiles overseas. "The government's in the middle of a fairly intense crackdown," says Mona Yacoubian, a
What explains the reduction of pressure on
In the fall of 2005, Assad's regime seemed threatened after it was linked to the assassination of Hariri the previous February in
But then international events intruded. "The whole policy approach the Syrian regime took in the wake of the Hariri assassination was to play for time," says Edward Djerejian, director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at
How stable is Bashar al-Assad’s regime?
It appeared shaky through much of 2005, but has since stabilized, experts say. "The Syrian withdrawal from
Experts say the country's citizens, seeing the crisis of
How strong is the internal opposition?
Human rights groups and non-governmental organizations exist, but they have little influence. "The opposition groups are weak and poorly organized," Djerejian says. "There's no imminent threat from any group that would come in and take power. In addition, "the Syrian security forces are very effective," Francona says. "They ferret these guys out, hunt them down ruthlessly, and kill them."
Another opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is outlawed. The group was decimated by Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, at a massacre in
How strong is the external opposition?
Former Vice President Khaddam, fired from his post in June last year, now leads a dissident movement from
Experts say Khaddam has linked up with Muslim Brotherhood members—also in exile in
Is there a threat of a military coup?
The Alawite generals who run the military and security services were worried at the end of last year about Assad's leadership, but they feel a bit more secure now, experts say.
What effect has the UN investigation had?
Bashar and Vice President Farouk al-Shara, who was
The Mehlis report led to intense political pressure on Assad and the possibility of sanctions against
After that, "it all depends on the contents of the report," Djerejian says. "If there's incriminating evidence against Bashar's inner circle, it will be very difficult for the president." If that happens, sanctions are possible, but growing less likely as the immediacy and momentum behind punitive action against
How much impact does Syrian intelligence have in
Syrian influence remains strong in