Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Syrian Panem et Baath Circenses!

Syrians are patriots. Let there be no doubt about that. But their patriotism is not any different from any other variety out there, that is, it is no less susceptible to exploitation and/or degradation.

Indeed, and with regard to the former, the Syrian regime seems to have developed it into a virtual art-form, albeit a not too highly refined one – the members of the regimes are simply too rogue for refinement even in this regard.

Still, the ability to exploit the patriotism of the Syrian people has its limits. After all, people don’t live on patriotism alone, and the regime’s willingness to orchestrate one freak show after another will only get it the kind of fickle popular support that authoritarian regimes usually get in their dotage.

For in the final analysis, people care more about their panem then their circenses. And panem these days is a very inclusive term, it actually means much more than bread. Much more.

It means affordable quality education, it means affordable quality healthcare system, it means reasonable retirement plans that people can actually look forward to and not only dread and postpone, it means the ability to create enough jobs, and failing that, then, at the very least, the ability to provide a certain social security network that can actually make a difference in one’s life... And these re only the basics.

When a socialist regime can no longer deliver on such expectations, then this socialist regime’s days are numbered, its military might notwithstanding. And what military might are we referring to here? The Syrian army is a joke, and Syrian soldiers, their sectarian backgrounds notwithstanding, are as much victims here as anybody else. As such, their suport is as fickle as that of taxdrivers who know very well how to disappear when they are most needed.

The Syrian regime can survive a lot of things, but it cannot survive bread riots. In order to avoid such riots, the regime needs to do much more than playing that old divide-and-conquer game it plays so well. It needs to do more than play on ethnic and sectarian fears and enflame sectarian and ethnic sentiments and passions. The regime wil not be able to rule when the country collapses from under it. Managing civic mayhem has never been easy, and under these cirucmstances, it is bound to be fatal, to both regime and country.

To counter this, the opposition needs to rally the people on its side, by highlighting the regime’s failure in responding to people’s basic needs. That is, they need to redefine the opposition in developmental and economic terms, rather than in purely political terms.

Ours, we should start arguing, is not a fight against oppression only. No. Ours is a fight for the improvement of the living standards of all Syrians and for the improvement of our basic lot in this world as a people.

But in order for our message to be effective here, we need to start fielding the right people, and the right spokespersons, ones that can reflect the image that is commensurate with the message. We need to recruit professionals from all different walks of life and we need to begin discussing specific plans for the development of Syria for once we are in power.

The gap in credibility, if not legitimacy, from which we continue to suffer, as far as the Syrian people are concerned, not to mention the representatives of the international community, can only be bridged when we succeed in offering credible visions and plans for the country’s future. Such visions need to be detailed and comprehensive, and they need to be formulated in public and not behind closed doors – that will defeat their purpose.

The Syrian people should know that plans for the future of their country are being made by Syrians, and that their input is more tan welcome.

The process itself will thus play a role in galvanizing support on the street and breeching that communication gap between people and opposition. It will also add more pressure on the Syria regime, which will hard pressed to match our rhetoric by actual moves on the ground, moves that it does not really know how to make.

In fact, the regime seems resigned not even to try, as the recent cabinet reshuffle indicates. For war cabinets, their rhetoric notwithstanding, tend to adopt austerity measures, and not deliver on economic reforms.

The Panem Challenge will go a long way in helping us bring a long-awaited end to our long-running Baath circenses.