By Ethan Abbott – @eth_abbott
Roy Murray Contributed to this article
Prior to the beginning of the crisis in Syria, in January 2011, Assad gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal. During this interview, he described the events that were unfolding in the Arab World at the time as a “new era” in the Middle East that would force Arab rulers to accommodate their people’s rising political and economic aspirations. Mr. Assad talked in length about desperation in Arab societies. Yet he did not make the slightest mention of the “conspiracy” that was brewing against them. Soon, it was February 2011, and protests erupted in central Damascus after a policeman was caught beating a citizen. Over two thousand Damascenes chanted: “The Syrian people cannot be humiliated”. They refrained from mentioning the regime or the president at that time. Pronto, the Interior Minister at that time appeared amongst the crowds and promised to punish the policeman responsible; he sweet-talked the Damascenes, quickly deflating the tension.
Not long after that, protests erupted in Daraa after reports emerged that the intelligence services (“mukhabarat”) had arrested children accused of writing anti-regime graffiti. In the aftermath, officials did not follow the same technique as their counterparts in Damascus. Rather, the Intelligence head decided to intimidate the locals who appealed to him. Discontent grew into unrest, and the events started to spiral out of control. Assad needed to intervene by the end of March 2011 – The scale of the tensions was such that only the President himself was able to deflate them. Assad made (more…)