Daraa is a dusty small town in the Southeastern corner of Syria. Until very recently, its only claim to fame was it being mentioned in the diaries of the legendary Lawrence of Arabia. In the last few days the derelict town has become the center of the anti-Assad demonstrations in Syria. Some people, the exact number of which is not known, were killed; many others were jailed. The rioters destroyed the statue of former President Hafiz Assad and the office of Syria's cell phone company, owned by Rami Makhlouf, Bashar Assad's maternal cousin. The regime counter-attack is led by elements of the Presidential Guard, commanded by Maher Assad, the younger brother of Bashar.
While all this happening, the town and the region of the Hauran, of which it is the capital, suffer from a severe shortage of water. Little wonder, that the poverty-stricken Hauranis finally raised the banner of rebellion, reacting to a situation which is common throughout Syria, and not only in their own region.
Let's start with water. Syria is on the verge of a catastrophic water crisis, caused by years of drought and total neglect by the government of the water sources. Over a million starving and thirsty peasants, mainly Kurds from the North-east of Syria, but also Sunnis from the Hauran and Druze from the neighboring Jabal regio were forced to abandon their traditional way of life and migrated to the metropolitan areas, particularly the Capital, Damascus. This is a time-bomb that is waiting to explode, and the Hauran riots are just the beginning. The traditionally belligerent Kurdish population of the Jzeera region are next in line, and possibly also the urban Kurdish population of Damascus, Aleppo and Hammah.
For years the Syrian regime was warned that the water problem is potentially explosive, but the pride and ineptitude of the government prevented any serious effort to deal with the situation. Overall the Syrian economy has taken a free fall for many years, the inevitable result of failed Socialist policies, as well as rampant corruption. Corruption in Syria is endemic and closely-related to the ruling Assad clan, as well as to a group of other families which have played a leading role in the regimes of both Assad presidents. The Tlas family is a case in mind. Mustafa Tlas was the Minister of Defense for almost 40 years. His family is rumored to accumulate many millions of dollars in a country as poor as Syria. On top of all, the Assad family controls enormous amount of wealth, and Rami Makhlouf mentioned above, is the businessman-in-chief of the family, much the same as Gamal Mubarak was under his disgraced father.
The Assad clan has been plagued for many years by internal dissent, the details of which could provide for more than one soap opera, that will overshadow a series like Dynasty and Dallas. Bashar's uncle, Rifa't Assad was the executioner-in-chief of the regime, until he fell out with Hafiz and was exiled. His lifestyle in Europe proves that he was never too far from the state coffers. Maher Assad who is entrusted with the task of putting down the current rebellion, is reputed to have a short fuse. In one famous incident, he shot and injured his brother-in-law, Assaf Shawkat who is married to his sister Bushra, and himself one of the regime's strongmen.
Still, in an emergency, the clan closes ranks and acts together to defend the power and the wealth. It is a typical reaction of regimes like that. The Gadafi clan in Libya and the Saddam Hussein in Iraq, are other notable examples. The history of the Assad Presidents clearly indicates that the Libyan carnage will be dwarfed by what will unfold in Syria , when the regime will be pushed with its back to the wall.
That is going to happen rather sooner than later, as the combination of economic deprivation, the ever-existing confessional hatreds and the resentment to the Assad clan will push many more desperate Syrians to the streets and with it to the inevitable blood-letting. According to reliable sources, the military already used choppers against the protesters In Daraa. So, what about a no-fly zone in Syria?
I, for one, do not hold my breath. Syria, as we know, is just a marginal oil producer.