Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Elite Situation

It is undeniable that the Syrian elite play some role in the production of keeping the al-Assad family in government. Their position is even more integral in keeping the government in power during a time of crisis, where dozens of key figures and countries have emerged to criticise the bloodshed in Bashar's campaign against Syria.

As described by Anthony Shadid for the New York Times (7th August 2011), there are now indications that the business elite is bracing and preparing itself for the downfall of the Assad government. Shadid describes the elite as 'one of the most important pillars of the Syrian leadership, notably during th Islamist revolt in 1982.


Shadid further goes on to talk about the military in Syria. Unlike in Egypt, where the military refused to fire on civilians, and in Libya, where there were top level defections in the military, in Syria, the body remains intact, cohesive and loyal. With some 70% of the composition being Alawite, the military has provided to be particularly difficult to split from the Assad government.

Bashar al-Assad greets crowds in Damascus, 15 February (Sana handout via AFP)

An Associated Press article for Fox News (4th August 2011) goes on to say why this is so. It describes that Syria is greatly contrasting to the events that occured in Libya and Egypt. In Libya, for example, there were 'tribal divisions and longstanding resentment towards Gaddafi', whilst in Egypt, the military was largely made of conscripts who were disinclined to fight their own people.


In contrast, the army in Syria is elite and Alawite, the sect to which al-Assad belongs, providing less divide and more stability or loyalty in comparison to their parallels in Libya or Egypt. In general, they are less prone to defection, which may be a reason for the survival of the al-Assad government thus far.

Sami Moubayed's article for Gulf News (2nd August 2011) further analysed why the business elites have not yet turned against the al-Assad government. It describes that the cities of Damascus and Aleppo are in fact 'operating' normally. Aleppo has been immune from the economic crisis and has not suffered problems like the rest of Syria largely due to its large trading relationship with Turkey. Aleppo has also learnt from its mistake of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, which has apparently led to their dormant business elite. Furthermore, Moubayed states that the business elite in Damascus are in fact no longer in Damascus, but in the suburbs surrounding the city.


Overall, Moubayed thinks that the business elite remain allied to the Syrian government because of their political, social and economic interests. 'Both cities can make or break any political movement - but rarely have they been part of anything that threatens stability or their commercial interests.' Interestingly, Moubayed lists three reasons why this will soon be no more, and the two cities will kick up a fuss. These are the increasing levels of unemployment, lack of community leaders and demographics, where Damascus is described as the 'melting point of all Syrians.

The importance of the elites is certain, however their actions in the coming weeks or months are not. I believe that change, perhaps in overthrowing the al-Assad government, will orginate from this body.

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