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SYRIA - Pax Americana Is Changing - Conclusions.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who has just received yet another blow from the US, is yet to be convinced that Washington is really determined to see the Baathist regime in Damascus overthrown. Watching the way US forces are sinking in the chaos of Iraq, he is still nursing the hope that he will have a deal with President George W. Bush before his second and final term in office ends in 2008, or with a Democrat in the White House if the Republicans fail in the next US elections.

Can Assad afford to wait that long? Judging by the balance of forces at play in Syria and in the neighbouring countries, he does not have much time left. His opponents within Syria are determined to see the Baathist regime annihilated (see below). But he is still hoping that the US will leave Iraq before long, although he is not certain that Syrian and other Arab jihadis will leave Iraq alive (see news1cIraqSalafJul4-05).

Going For The New Iran Model, Or Helping Bush Win The War In Iraq? Assad still has two options open: (1) To help the US find an exit from Iraq, but that could mean helping Bush win a war at the expense of the Baathist regime in Syria - which might prompt Baath Party hardliners to stage a coup d'etat against him; or (2) To adopt a new model being applied in Iran.

The Iranian model is an inhouse coup - just staged in Tehran - with the June 24 election of an ultra-conservative figure, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, 49, as president of the Islamic Republic. The coup was staged against both an upper middle-class pragmatic faction, represented by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who lost in the election, and the upper middle-class reformists of Mohammad Khatami, whose second and final term in the presidency ends in early August.

It was a coup by the following combination of forces: the conservative leaders of an un-elected Shiite theocracy led by the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with his eldest son Mujtaba having been campaign manager for Ahmadi-Nejad; the country's poor and the lower middle class - together said to number about 35m (it is said the number of Iranians below the poverty line total almost 28m); and the combination of the military elite of the Revolutionary Guard, the Basij militia and Ansar-e-Hizbollah.

Essentially, the coup was more in response to US pressure for Middle East regimes to be changed in favour of American-inspired democratisation and for Iran to drop its nuclear development programme than against Rafsanjani - who wanted to trade this programme in return for massive American-led investment in Iran's economic development - and the reformist movement.

However, Assad must be extremely careful in staging his own coup as the Iranian model could eventually backfire - where Khameini's conservative camp is concerned. While the poor in Iran will quickly become violent if Ahmadi-Najad's government fails to improve their living conditions at the expense of a free-market economy and in favour of heavy subsidies, the military elite will stand a strong change of eventually staging their own coup (see analysis of the latest Iranian developments in next week's News Service - news2cIranPoliticsJuly11-05).

The situation in Syria could be similar, as the poor by far outnumber those Syrians who are better off. But the military elite in Syria will always gain the upper hand, with the late Hafez Al-Assad having emerged from the same elite when he staged his coup against the civilian wing of the ruling Baath Party in 1970 - see the structure of the Syrian regime in Part 17B in Vol. 48, fap5a2Nov22-04).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Jul 4, 2005
Previous Article:SYRIA - The Worst Case Scenario.
Next Article:SYRIA - Baathists Fear Extinction.

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