Syria is unlike any other Arab country. It is home to adherents to many of the world's oldest religions, tribal groupings and ancient cities. I have lived in Syria for two years, and have been visiting annually for the last decade. The Syrian landscape is dotted with reminders of past battles and the rise and fall of the Greeks, Romans, Mongols, Ottomans and recently the French. The Syrian people know the price of war. They are forced to take stock, by memories of blood spilled in Lebanon, by wars with Israel and now by daily clashes between armed protesters and Bashar al-Assad's soldiers. The fear of impending chaos and losing more lives helps bolster Assad's rule over a weary people.
There's good reason why 55 percent of Syrians polled recently still support Assad. They prefer his (flawed) promise of security and stability to the (untested) opposition's offer of a democracy enveloped in blood. Assad's appeal is not that he offers freedom, but security. And by killing mercilessly he illustrates that, like his father's regime, he will use an iron fist to try to control Syria.