Blowing off Steam
By Andrew Tabler
ICWA Letter FEBRUARY 2006
DAMASCUS, Syria – The storming of several Western embassies in Damascus on February 4 by a mob of protesters enraged by caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in European newspapers grabbed international headlines and TV news channels. Security forces looked on as demonstrators stoned and then burned the Danish, Swedish, Chilean and Norwegian embassies, only to repel finally an assault on the French embassy hours later. The Bush administration is holding Syria responsible for the assault [as well as similar protests across the Arab World], saying that violent demonstrations in Syria do not take place “without govern-ment knowledge and support.” The jury is still out on state culpability, but the embassies incident is an excellent case-study in how authoritarian states under external stress can use “safety valves” to let off very real internal pressures in ways that strengthen the regime’s hand.
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