Sorting out Syrian crisis

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad further enraged anti-government protesters yesterday when, in his first speech since the start of unprecedented demonstrations in January, he defied calls to lift a 1963 emergency law and blamed a "conspiracy" for the turmoil.

Following Assad's speech to Parliament, protesters marched in the port city of Latakia chanting "Freedom."

amNewYork spoke with Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, about the unrest in Syria.

Did Assad's speech address opponents' concerns? Syrians clearly want fundamental political change and have a desire for basic human freedoms, and he didn't even address that. He's clearly refusing to see the real problem.

How does Syria's uprising compare to other recent Mideast clashes? The basic [freedom] plotline is the same. ... In Libya, you had this enormously powerful state and a very weak society. The Syrian state is exceedingly powerful, but you have a very complex society up against it. ... The people are very plugged into the rest of the world.

How does the U.S.'s interest in Syria compare to the other nations? Because it's a neighbor of Israel, it's important. It's important because it has a large army, because it's aligned with strategic positions; it has a relatively large population; it has a connection with Iran. It's one of the most important countries to the U.S. in the Middle East.

Do the Syrians have a chance of succeeding? I think the jig is up for all of these dictators. The only question is how long, how bloody and how complicated the process is going to be.

Would the U.S. or NATO intervene? It's not a country like Libya with a ramshackle military. ... Nobody in their right mind - U.S., NATO or otherwise - would take on the Syrian army right now.

Is Assad solidly in control? He's still very much in the grip of his toughest, most repressive allies, whether it's his brother-in-law, his brother or the barons of the security services. They seem to have the upper hand.

Who might replace Bashar al-Assad if he were ousted? That's part of the problem with an authoritarian regime - it's destroyed the opposition. ... It's very hard to foretell how that might develop. 

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