Is Syria reaching the point of no return?
Friday's demonstrations were a first step on a long path that could end with the fall of the regime of Bashar Assad.
A resident of Daraa, the capital city of the Huran region of Syria where protests against the regime of Bashar Assad began more than ten days ago, said yesterday during another clash between the citizens and security forces that the confrontations are the first step towards toppling the regime.
In conversation with a Reuters reports, 'Ibrahim' said that the people had reached the 'point of no return'. It is difficult, however, to determine at this time if Ibrahim's words reflect reality. He made the obvious comparison between what is transpiring in Syria and the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
But that comparison actually points out the obvious difference between Syria and the rest of the countries in the Arab world that experienced upheavals in the last two months: the amount of participants.
It is hard to estimate the extent of the anti-government demonstrations that took place on Friday across the country. The reports emanating from Syria are truncated, cut off, and the number of casualties from these events, like the number of participants, is unclear.
But what is clear is that at least in the large cities like Damascus, Halab, and even in Latakia and Homs, there weren't tens of thousands of people in the streets, as there were in Daraa. There were already many thousands of people in the streets of Benghazi, Cairo and Tunis in the early stages, but in Damascus only several hundreds people participated in the protests on Friday.
Also, most of the demonstrations on Friday were in protest over the killing of civilians in Daraa, not demanding to topple the regime and the president.
Despite this, it can be said that Friday's demonstrations were a first step on a (very long) path that could end with the fall of the regime in Syria. It was an historic day for Syria under the rule of Bashar Assad.
Until two weeks ago, the president had only experienced demonstrations in the Kurdish region, mainly in the city of Kamishli, and nowhere else. In the last two weeks, the protests have been focused in Daraa and other cities and villages in one of the poorest regions in the country.
On Friday, for the first time, the disturbances spread to cities all over Syria, and the mere fact that demonstrations took place, even if hundreds of thousands of Syrians did not take part in them, mark the events as exceptional, the start of something. It should be remembered that the call to topple the regime was also not uttered by hundreds of thousands in Tunisia on the first day of their demonstrations.
It would seem that at this point, the future of Syria in good measure depends on Bashar Assad and his security forces. The army's decision to physically quash the demonstrations in Daraa has turned out to be foolish, as it has led to intensification in protests across the country.
If Assad continues with this show of force he is trying to put on, it would seem that the number of people participating in the protests will only increase.
On the other hand, the president could take a series of dramatic steps that would change the face of Syria and calm tensions. But until now the Syrian president has settled for only symbolic steps, the announcement of marginal reforms and blaming the international media for what is taking place in Syria – which closely mirrors the way in which Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia tried to hold on to power.
Assad is currently dealing with a number of problems, the solutions for which are not visible on the horizon. First, real reforms in Syria, like the ability to form new political parties, the abolition of the emergency law, and others, are likely to lead in the end to major changes in Syria, including his eventual departure.
Assad's insistence on battling the protesters, could bring him to the point in which he will be forced into conflict with the international community, as in the case of Muammar Gadhafi. His biggest problem, and he knows it, is that something in Syria already fell on Friday. His opponents' fear factor has been broken.
And one final note: Over the course of the last few weeks, Al-Jazeera's broadcasts on the revolutions in the Arab world have included the commentary of the former Member of Knesset Azmi Bashara, considered an insider of the Syrian regime.
For some reason, since the demonstrations in Syria began to spread, Bishara has refrained from commenting and explaining the goings-on in Syria to the Arab public.