Flynt Leverett, a professor of international affairs at Penn State and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial by Fire. Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of the forthcoming book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.
Flynt Leverett: Syria is a real mosaic in terms of its society. And I think that President Assad can probably marshal at least 50 percent of the society, which would prefer him and the present regime to any plausible alternative. . . . I think the strategic problem is, in broad terms, the same for his father and now for Bashar al-Assad. The strategic problem is to hold this society together. The biggest concern for, I think, still a majority of Syrians is that they have seen next door in Lebanon, they have seen next door in Iraq, what happens when a multiethnic, multiconfessional society comes apart in the Middle East. There are more than a million Iraqi refugees living in Syria right now as daily testament to that. And I think that most Syrians, certainly the constituencies that Bashar al-Assad is counting on to support him, are not looking to him primarily at this point for bold reform initiatives. I think they’re looking to him primarily to demonstrate that he can hold this together and keep it from turning into post-Saddam Iraq or civil war Lebanon. . . . I think the protests will continue for a while. I think Andrew is correct that the security force response is likely to get more severe over time. And I think that President Assad is going to count on, essentially, as I said, a majoritarian support within the country to support him in doing what he needs to do to restore order.
This interview was broadcast by PBS News Hour on 8 April 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes. Click here to read the full transcript of the interview. Cf. Robin Yassin-Kassab, “Syrian Protests and Bullets” (Qunfuz, 9 April 2011); Joshua Landis, “The Revolution Strikes Home: Yasir Qash’ur, My Wife’s Cousin, Killed in Banyas” (Syria Comment, 11 April 2011).
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