Ammar Abdulhamid on Syria: "It's the economy, stupid"

Syrian Blogger and opposition activist Ammar Abdulhamid has a very different take on prospects for change in Syria, which he says will be driven by economic factors. I would not be so optimistic (I see the same kind of thinking over Egypt's current economic crisis) because just like you can't control a country entirely through security measures, you can't make change happen entirely through economic disgruntlement, for which temporary fixes can always be found. Here's the text of his address to the US Congress:



Change in Syria is not a matter of “if� anymore, but of when, how and who. Facts and factors influencing and dictating change are already in progress and are, for the most part, the product of internal dynamics rather than external influences. Although this assertion seems to fly in the face of traditional wisdom regarding the stability of the ruling regime in Syria, the facts are clear and plainly visible for all willing to see.

 

The problem has been that most experts and policymakers have always been more concerned with high-end politics to pay any real attention to what is actually taking place on the ground. Issues such as the International Tribunal established to look into the assassination of former PM Rafic al-Hariri, Iran’s growing regional influence, the Assads’ sponsorship of Hamas, Hizbullah and certain elements in the Iraqi insurgency, escalating international pressures against the regime, and the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between the regime and opposition forces continue to dominate the ongoing international debate over Syria’s present and future.

 

The dynamics of daily life, however, shaped more by inflation, unemployment, poverty, imploding infrastructure, and official corruption and mismanagement might actually be rewriting the usual scenarios in this regard. For as that old adage goes: “it’s the economy stupid!�





And Syria’s economy is indeed imploding. The lack of government response in this regard, or, to be more specific, the fact that government policies seem to be making matters worse for most Syrians, is forcing people to organize around issues of local concern, and to begin to agitate. Albeit this agitation is not yet anti-regime per se, that is, no one is yet demanding the ouster of the current president, it is indeed anti-establishment in nature, that is, it is clearly aimed against official policies, corruption, mismanagement, neglect, lies, arrogance and impunity. As such, it marks an important departure from the usual docile attitude and an important milestone on the road towards the rise of a popular grassroots movement against the Assad dictatorship, if the situation is properly managed by opposition groups.   

 

This phenomenon is still admittedly in its embryonic phase at this stage, and might take years before it produces a real challenge to the regime’s authority on the grounds; it should also be borne in mind here that this phenomenon may not automatically translate into grassroots support for any of the existing opposition movements or coalitions and might just lead, in the absence of active outreach efforts by the opposition, to the emergence of new more popular forms and figures of opposition, albeit the Damascus Declaration seems to be the one movement with the greatest popular appeal. Still, what is clear here is that the phenomenon is real and does merit observation. And, for those interested in ensuring the emergence of a “positive� democratic outcome eventually, it does merit support as well.