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Bessma Momani

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Syrian Brutality: The Unintended Consequence of Mubarak's Trial

Posted: 08/09/11 10:05 AM ET

Few people in the Middle East would have ever expected to see the day of Hosni Mubarak's trial for charges of corruption and murder. Indeed, many throughout Egypt and the region started to wonder if the revolution was all a fabricated rouse where Mubarak was relaxing on the beaches of Sharm el-Sheikh and covertly running the country from the seaside resort.

He had not been seen since the day of his so-called declaration of transferring power to his vice president, and months had passed as few people of the 80 million strong country had seen Mubarak and his entourage. Questions and rumours of Mubarak's whereabouts and health were rampant as most doubted the trial would ever happen.

Then it finally did.

The opening day of Mubark's trial day will be remembered as a historic one for Middle Eastern history: the modern Pharaoh's fall from grace. Caged in a makeshift cell and stripped of his regalia, Hosni Mubarak looked feeble and reduced to an image of an old man. These are just the images that many throughout the protest movements in Egypt and the wider Middle East were wanting since the very start of the 'Arab Spring.' It will inspire regional protest movements to continue to demand political and economic reforms and to seek political accountability from their leaders. The trial of Mubarak will, however, have the unintended consequence of teaching incumbent Arab governments that either they repress their protest movements or else face a similar wrath to that of Mubarak.

For Syria today this means that the Bashar al-Assad government may take the Mubarak trials as a learning moment: continue its brutal crackdown of protesters and prevent the rise of opposition movements from organizing a united political voice. The Assad regime will want to prevent the symbolic and literal gathering of a Tahrir Square throughout Syria. It has surrounded the restive cities of Hama and Homs.

The Syrian regime's modus operandi will be to crush the protesters in a brutal fashion. With very little care about Western economic sanctions that will sting little in a country that has historically remained insulated from the globalized world economy, continued indifference of their international reputation, and the reality that few of the cash-strapped Western nations are apt to finance or support another NATO military intervention, the Assad regime will step up the brutality with a sense of their invulnerability. This does not bode well for the poor civilians of Hama, Homs, Daraa, and other cities that challenge the regime's bloody violence against protesters, many of whom are youths.

Indeed, the model of Bahrain is perhaps the one that Arab governments will follow. As most camera lenses were fixated on Libya or Yemen, the Bahraini government with support of Saudi Arabia had entered Pearl Roundabout in Manama and crushed the pro-democracy demonstrators killing a dozen or so protesters.

The roundabout is now empty of protesters and Bahrain's rulers are in tact. Bahrain has its own trial taking place as well, but it is the protesters and their political supporters who are on trial for undermining national security. The Bahraini rulers used all of their imported military might to stop the protest movement from gaining any traction in this once burgeoning example of a move toward pluralist democracy.

So while Syria's protest movements and opposition groups may be emboldened to take to the streets by watching the most popular of Egyptian soap opera, the trial of Hosni Mubarak and his cronies, the Assad regime will internalize this zero-sum game as a choice between being put behind a prison cage for the world's cameras to gaze upon or crush the protesters without fear of impunity. For the helpless civilians of Hama, Homs and other Syrian cities that dare challenge the Assad regime's authority, they will likely feel the wrath of the unintended consequence of the lessons learned from Mubarak's trials.