According to the West, Syria is a “rogue” state that has interests in developing weapons of mass destruction and supports terrorism.
But even as the revolt in the country started in March, Hillary Clinton was praising Bashar Assad as a reformer.
The contradiction is summed up by the fact that the US outsourced torture to Syria as part of the “war on terror” rendition programme—while still describing the country as part of the “axis of evil”.
Most of the country’s 17 million people—half aged under 19—are poor, and getting poorer.
Unemployment stands between 25 and 30 percent. GDP is falling and the oil is running out.
The vast bureaucracy and military and security machine that has kept the ruling Ba’ath party in power can’t be sustained.
Historically the Ba’athists were middle class intellectuals, professionals, students, traders and businessmen who hated what imperialism had done to the region.
But once they came to power, the interests of the ruling class dominated.
Modern Syrian history has seen continuing clashes with Israel—it has been a thorn in the side of Western powers.
But for all the talk of solidarity with the Palestinians, it is a history of betrayal.
The regime has also played on sectarian divisions to keep itself in power.
Syria is a multi‑religious and multi‑ethnic society.
Sunni Muslims comprise about three quarters of the population. Minority Muslim groups such as the Alawites and Druze, and also Christians, make up the rest.
Since the 1970 coup that brought Hafez Assad to power, the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shia Islam, has dominated key posts in the government and armed forces. The regime poses as the defenders of Alawites, Christians, Druze and others against a Sunni majority.
While the vast majority of the population is Arab, the Kurds, Armenians and other groups make up about 10 percent.
Any challenge to the regime is cynically used to pull the minorities behind the regime and to justify crackdowns.
But so far the revolt in Syria has crossed regional, religious and ethnic divisions—and that terrifies the ruling elite.