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Governments have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But one of the most important Arab rulers has so far resisted the pressures of the Arab Spring. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces protest from inside and outside his country. Still, he continues a relentless and bloody crackdown. And the Syrian ruler's survival so far is forcing people to reevaluate the direction of the uprisings. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.
DEBORAH AMOS: It's time for a reassessment of the Arab Spring, the movement that's toppled three Arab regimes, says Vali Nasr, a former U.S. government adviser.
VALI NASR: The reason we have to rethink our approach to the Arab Spring in light of what is happening in Syria, we have to realize that the path to democracy is not going to be straight and quick.
AMOS: In Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the path is just beginning. The outcome in Syria is more uncertain, he says.
NASR: The path to something better in Syria may in the short run have to go through a messy conflict that we have to be prepared for and know how to manage.
AMOS: Assad's exit is far from clear. The longer he stays in power, the more violent the country becomes, according to diplomats in Damascus. Reports that the Obama administration is working with Turkey on ways to manage the fallout from a civil war in Syria matched fears in the region, says Tarek Masoud with the Kennedy School at Harvard.
TAREK MASOUD: There are a lot more important players who are invested in the stability of the Syrian regime than were invested in the stability of the Libyan one,
AMOS: Iran has sent cash to shore up the Syrian economy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
AMOS: The head of Lebanon's Maronite Christian churches warn that the end of the Syrian regime threatens Christians across the Middle East. But Arab leaders, led by Saudi Arabia, have begun to abandon Assad, challenging Syrian claims the uprising is led by terrorist groups.
JAMAL KHASHOGGI: Nobody believes that argument. The intelligence gave a very clear picture of what is taking place in Syria.
AMOS: That's Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who listened in on a conversation with the Syrian president.
KHASHOGGI: I heard a telephone conversation between a Saudi official and Bashar al-Assad and the official was just laughing. He just did not believe it. It's unconvincing.
AMOS: The Saudi king recalled the ambassador to Syria. The Saudi-backed satellite channel Al Arabiya has stepped up coverage, featuring videos showing gruesome government violence against demonstrators. The Saudi leadership has given up on Assad, says Khashoggi.
KHASHOGGI: I think they have.
AMOS: Do you expect them to take more measures?
KHASHOGGI: That will be very difficult. Right now the Syrian army is occupying the Syrian cities - how to intervene locally?
AMOS: There's no Saudi backing for military intervention, he says, which raises the question: Is Syria's Arab Spring about to enter an even more violent season? Armed attacks against the army are growing. Demonstrations remain largely peaceful for now, says Peter Harling, with the International Crisis Group in Damascus.
PETER HARLING: They've been preparing themselves for confrontation if there is no alternative, but showing considerable restraint.
AMOS: More on the street now ask, is peaceful protest the way to go?
HARLING: This is also the expression of a great degree of frustration.
AMOS: Frustration over the cost. With almost 3,000 dead, something has to give, says Bassam Haddad, an academic and author of a book on Syria's political economy.
BASSAM HADDAD: We are talking about a death rate of 100 people per week. For this to continue for 14, 18 and 20 weeks is just unfathomable.
AMOS: Syria is far more complex than Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, a multiethnic society, including a Christian community that dates back to the first century. These communities have deep fears as well as demands, which raises complicated questions, says Josh Landis, an authority on Syria.
JOSH LANDIS: And so it's not a simple matter of the good people against the bad dictator, which is the way we've tried to paint all of these stories.
AMOS: The Syrian story is one of a minority sect that has ruled over a majority Sunni Muslim population for 40 years, carefully granting favors to other minorities and ethnic groups in exchange for loyalty, says Landis.
LANDIS: I think they're going to fight to the bitter end and this is going to be bloody. And so it'll have aspects of ethnic and religious war, as well as the democracy lovers against the tyrants.
AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.
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