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Analysts: In Syria, Few Arab Spring Lessons Apply

  • Elizabeth Arrott

CAIRO - In the past year and a half, uprisings across the Arab world have toppled four men whose rule had lasted decades.

Tunisia's Zine el Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Libya's Moammar Gadhafi held on longer, but with NATO intervention was forced underground and eventually killed by his own people.

In Yemen, a diplomatic solution ended the standoff; a regional deal pushed a reluctant Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand power to his deputy.

The life sentence handed down on Saturday to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who resigned last year amid mass protest, offers the latest case study of Arab autocrats versus the people.

What does this all mean in terms of resolving the violence in Syria after its Arab Spring uprising? Likely not much, analysts say.

Situations differ

Nadim Shehadi of London-based Chatham House says the history of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, like Libya's Gadhafi, is different from the leaders ousted in Tunisia and Egypt.

"It's too late for President Bashar al-Assad to follow the footsteps of either Ben Ali or of Mubarak because he doesn't even acknowledge the existence of an opposition and he is still fighting it all the way," he says. "So, his choice is either an end like Gadhafi, or have an Ali Abdullah Saleh kind of deal."

Arab leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council were able, after several false promises from the Yemeni president, to ensure a handover of power to his deputy.

In recent weeks, the Yemen model has gained traction in the international community, as other diplomatic efforts founder.

Shehadi says it is probably not realistic.

“I find that it is going to be very difficult to do a deal with President Assad because I think the international community has lost faith in anything he says," he says. "So, there isn't enough trust to make a deal with him. Even President Ali Abdullah Saleh kept playing games after he made the deal. And he is still playing games.”

Assad exile unlikely

Cairo-based political analyst Hisham Kassem agrees that the Yemen model holds little hope for Syria. He argues that the idea of exile, like Ben Ali, could once have been a possibility, with President Assad finding refuge in ally Iran.

But Kassem thinks that moment has passed.

“Maybe Bashar now is wondering whether he should have followed Ben Ali's model some time ago, you see, because Bashar can only stay in power through blood," he says. "So, maybe it is too late and he could be thinking if he did not make a mistake by following the Ben Ali's model.”

Like many analysts, Kassem has little hope for a diplomatic solution.

“I don't think at this point Bashar is observing or trying to learn more," he says. "He is becoming one-track minded and he knows that nothing can save him unless he continues with this massacre and wins.”

If President Assad's rule does come to a forced end, Kassem says the Syrian leader is likely to face a situation similar to Gadhafi's.

And that, he says, is something Assad knows.

VOA's Japhet Weeks contributed to this story from Cairo.