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Syria and Libya: Two paths to freedom

By Rana Jawad, BBC News, Tripoli: People in Libya and Syria both rose up to overthrow decades of tyrannical rule. A year on, why are they living two very different realities?

There was a time during the Libyan uprising when Libyans worriedly stared at the screens.

They watched events unfold in Syria after their own moves to rise against a man who brutally suppressed them for decades.

Although they understood the Syrian cries for freedom, they worried that the world’s attention would swiftly shift to President Bashar al-Assad’s lethal crackdown.

They worried that their battle and their needs would be forgotten and Syria would become a priority. How wrong they were.

Was it simply easier for outside observers to unite against Col Muammar Gaddafi, a man who appeared to the world as a dishevelled loon, as opposed to Mr Assad’s suave looks and measured public tone?

It certainly made it easier for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution on Libya that paved the way for intervention.

However, there were bigger factors at play.

Power play
Though all the recent uprisings in the Arab world have the shared thread of freedom running through them, the joins between them are not all seamless.
In comparison to Syria, Libya was a simpler case.

There were no sectarian complications. The majority of Libyans were united over their cause.

In Syria, by comparison, anyone considering military intervention is forced to consider everything that went wrong in Iraq and the long bloody civil war in neighbouring Lebanon.

France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe speaks of a “catastrophic civil war” if they were to arm the opposition.

And then there is Libya’s vast oil reserves. Could the West afford to wait for the inevitable outcome of the Libyan uprising?

Geographically and politically, there are differences too.

Syria is a diplomatic minefield both for those struggling to overthrow the regime and for Western powers contemplating how to help them do it.

Mr Assad’s government has allies in Tehran and in Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Syria’s neighbour, Lebanon, has much to fear from war on its doorstep.

It is already struggling with the influx of refugees and public opinion is divided over whether to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or steer clear for fear of yet another proxy war being fought from its territory.

‘No turning back’
Libya’s former leader, on the other hand, had single-handedly managed to isolate himself from much of the world for the better part of his reign.

The heads of neighbouring countries and much of the Arab world despised him – either openly or discreetly.

He also arguably stocked enough weapons across the country to declare war against the world, which gave his opponents an advantage in the early days of the war.

In the case of Syria, what has happened to the people who took to the streets a year ago calling for the fall of the Assad regime and for basic freedoms?
Many of them are dead. But they leave behind determined relatives and fearless protesters who believe that now their allegiances have been made public, they are dead either way if they fall into the regime’s hands.

For them and others who defected from the army to join the cause, there is no turning back.

That leaves the West and Mr Assad’s government in a seemingly endless cycle of uncertainty over what to do next.

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