02/28/2012 12:28 EST | Updated 04/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Springtime for Assad and Syria...

Getty File

How many times have we all heard the expression "Too little, too late?" A problem arises, and a solution is possible based on compromise, but the two sides remain dug in their original positions, because the stronger side cannot begin to imagine, at that time, that the balance of power might change.

Looming power, just like power itself, has an enormously intoxicating effect which alters the expectations, aspirations, and behaviour of those it affects. The faster the gain, the worse the behaviour. This is further complicated by that difficult-to-resist need for revenge, which is provoked by the unmitigated brutality, torture, and mutilation by the dominant party.

What could be a better example of this scenario than the unfolding story in Syria?

On January 26 of last year, the Syrian demonstrators did not ask for much. They wanted an end to the state of emergency that had been in place for many long years, and the government to control its rampant corruption. Syrians waited anxiously to hear their president agree to at least some of those modest demands.

When the speech came, in the midst of orchestrated fanfare, and with the president surrounded by his hundreds of sycophants, it was a display of arrogant defiance. Assad assured his listeners that all was well in Syria, and that he had instructed his cabinet to look into possible reform. That, of course, never came.

One year later, Syrians voted on what has been called a new constitution, while Rome burns. The ploy to legitimize Bashar al-Assad's regime had 89.4 per cent approval.

But this comes after thousands of unnecessary deaths and many more arrests with torture; thus the population is severely divided in its response to this late overture. We hear that the new constitution stipulates a maximum of two seven-year terms for the president of the country.

Somehow that reminds me of the exactly the same clause inserted by President Wade of Senegal into that country's constitution, and yet the 85-year-old Wade insists that he has the right to run a third time, because he claims that the rule comes into effect, not retrospectively, but only after it was adopted.

Thus the question that comes to mind is: Is it even remotely conceivable that Syria's president is planning to resume his ophthalmological practice at the end of his current term? Or is he saying he would step aside in 2026, by which time who knows what the Middle East will look like?

The vast majority of people would say he meant 2026. I would too, because dictators all insist on "too little, too late." If only the other Arab regimes would learn from the past and take initiative to gradually introduce electoral reform, phased over a predefined period of two to three years, that are genuine enough to avoid the inevitable rebellion that is bound to envelope them in the coming decade.

I would dare to bet that if they did so, their own people would ensure that they remain on their thrones, as constitutional kings or emirs for ever, just as the British, the Sweden, and the Danish monarchs do.


Obtainable from:

In Canada: Indigo-Chapters Books

In England: Waterstones Books