Protesters Want Changes To Syria's Power Structure

Originally published on April 27, 2011 12:36 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It is hard to get answers out of Syria right now. The country is largely closed to Western reporters. We do know that there have been protests in some cities. And we also know something of the Syrian power structure. The Assad family has controlled Syria for decades. They belong to the Alawite religious sect, an offshoot of Shiia Islam.

JOSHUA LANDIS: What you have today in Syria as an odd political structure, where the hell Alawites dominate the presidency, the security forces, the intelligence units, and they're only 12 percent of the population.

INSKEEP: Syria expert Joshua Landis lived in the country in the past, and explains how the inside family has maintained its rule.

LANDIS: Now, the opposition denies all this and says this is complete bunkum. Syria has split into two parts today and they're not talking to each other. They both, in a sense, live in different worlds and they see Syria with different realities. And that's the problem, is there is extremely - Syria is very split.

INSKEEP: The split being the people who are in charge, the Alawite sect and the people around Assad, and everybody else.

LANDIS: That strength, though, is going to become a real weakness if the regime becomes destabilized.

INSKEEP: Do you have any sense of whether the opposition to Assad is nationwide?

LANDIS: We have seen, in Damascus and Aleppo, the two major cities of Syria, people have not come out on the streets in big numbers. Demonstrations have started in the suburbs of the cities, the poorer suburbs, but they have not reached the center of the cities. That has to happen for this movement to really overthrow the regime.

INSKEEP: Why hasn't it happened?

LANDIS: Because they're frightened. The sort of middle-class, the stolid, conservative middle-class and upper middle classes, don't want the civil war.

INSKEEP: It's interesting when you say that people are frightened, you didn't say that they were frightened first of Assad and his security forces, although I'm sure the people are. But that their greatest fear was what comes after Assad.

LANDIS: This, increasingly as it moves on, although the slogans of the opposition are: unity, freedom, democracy, there is a boiling sectarian tension underneath it that has people very frightened.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

LANDIS: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.