In Syria’s parched farmlands, echoes of Egyptian woes
The Syrian government says there is no chance of unrest spreading to the country, but on the ground citizens are suffering all the same problems that pushed Egyptians to breaking point.
March 10, 2011 3:05 by Reuters
PROTEST CALLS IGNORED
Despite the hardships, little is happening on the surface in Syria to indicate that the ruling hierarchy is about to lose its grip. Internet calls for protests went nowhere and a campaign of arrests against independent figures only intensified.
Assad, who came to power aged 34, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that reform would have to wait for what he termed as the next generation.
But senior officials called in leading opposition figures separately last month to hear their views.
“I told them to look at what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. You have to start by releasing the political prisoners, allowing free press and free expression, lifting emergency laws, preparing for free elections,” one opposition figure said.
“They kept saying that Syria must maintain stability and national cohesion,” he told Reuters.
Economic difficulties could pose the biggest challenge to that stability.
In Hauran’s old Roman city of Bosra, a United Nations World Heritage site, poor tourism facilities have hit revenues. A deterioration in ties with neighbouring Lebanon has resulted in fewer Syrian workers going there, and ripples from the global financial crisis have also been felt.
“I was counting on my children working in the Gulf after they finish their education. Now I am not so sure,” said Thaher Mansour, who saved money working in Dubai.
Asked if the Arab revolution could spread to his country, Mansour said Syria was more religiously and ethnically mixed than Egypt or Tunisia, making unified opposition less likely. But a similar scenario was still possible.
“You cannot keep pressuring people like this. You simply cannot. All what it needs is a spark,” he said.
(By Khaled Yacoub Oweis. Editing by Dominic Evans and Samia Nakhoul)