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Expert: No end in sight for Syrian crisis

updated 12:47 PM EST, Fri January 6, 2012
A photo released by the Syrian News Agency shows a damaged bus at the site of Friday's suicide bombing in Damascus.
A photo released by the Syrian News Agency shows a damaged bus at the site of Friday's suicide bombing in Damascus.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Professor Fawaz Gerges says he doesn't expect a quick resolution to the Syrian crisis
  • Gerges says Syria is divided and that President Bashar al-Assad still has much support
  • Gerges: It's not just Alawites who support the president but some Christians and Sunnis also

(CNN) -- Even with Arab League monitors on the ground, violent attacks have shown no sign of slowing down in Syria.

More than 25 people were killed Friday after a suicide bombing in Damascus, state media reported.

According to reports, 5,000 to 6,000 deaths have occurred since an uprising began 10 months ago. President Bashar al-Assad has said his regime is putting down armed terrorists who are trying to destabilize the country. Opposition leaders say those claims are a ruse to justify attacks on peaceful protesters.

The Arab League said Friday that it will add more monitors in Syria to determine whether the government is abiding by a December agreement to end the conflict.

But at least one expert doesn't see an end anytime soon.

Syria blames 'terrorists' for blast
Defector describes atrocities
Arab League accused of failing Syrians
Critics question monitors' Syria mission

Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, told CNN International's Max Foster on Friday that there isn't a viable alternative to al-Assad right now.

Max Foster: You say the Syrian opposition is deeply divided?

Fawaz Gerges: Absolutely. It has come a long way, no doubt about it. But it's deeply divided along ideological lines, political lines and generational lines.

Foster: Is there any sense that it's getting more organized?

Gerges: I think if you look at what the opposition was five, six months ago, and where the opposition is (now), I think it has made major, major progress. But the reality is -- make no doubt about it -- the opposition is and remains deeply divided.

Foster: They wouldn't be able to take over power right now?

Gerges: Well, first of all, the Syrian crisis is unfolding. I don't think it's a matter of days, I don't think it's a matter of weeks, I don't even think it's a matter of months. The situation is highly complex, and we really are basing our reports on very partial information.

The uprising continues; the (al-Assad) regime has failed to silence the opposition. But the reality is President (al-Assad) retains sizable public support inside Syria itself. The major urban centers in Syria, in particular Aleppo and Damascus and Latakia, have not fully joined the protests.

Foster: Is the support for the regime support for al-Assad, or is it because people are concerned about the alternative, and they would rather have that stability?

Gerges: I think we don't know the truth -- why millions of Syrians have not fully joined the protests. We don't have the information; we're speculating a great deal. But when we talk to Syrians, they provide several answers.

First, they're terrified of the Iraq option. They say, "Look what happened in Iraq after the American invasion: sectarian strife, millions of refugees." They're terrified of the Lebanon example -- again, sectarian war. And they believe they don't see a light at the end of the tunnel.

And of course, (al-Assad) has some support: He has his own minority base, the Alawites, most of the Christians and a sizable Sunni community. Few people know that some elements of the Sunni community, the majority community, have benefited from the economic liberalization under (al-Assad).

Foster: What's that support based on?

Gerges: The (al-Assad) regime has really portrayed itself, branded itself, as the protector of minorities. It's not just the Alawites, the Shiites. ... I am surprised that the Christians, most of the Christians I talked to, they are as supportive of (al-Assad) as the Alawites. They say: "Look, what will happen to us? Look what happened to the Christians in Iraq."

The reality is, this is not a sectarian conflict. This is an essentially political conflict. The uprising is real and genuine. Millions of Syrians basically would like to have serious change in Syria. But also the reality is that Syria is deeply divided, not just the opposition.

I think at the end of the day, we don't know what's happening within the regime itself. That is, we might wake up tomorrow and see a coup d'├ętat.

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