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Syria on the brink of liberty?

So many nations – notably Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia – claim interests in Syria. It's easy to forget what still drives the civil war there: the seed of freedom planted even before the Arab Spring.

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Smoke billows over Damascus July 18 as rebels advanced in the Syria capital. A bomb ripped through a high-level security meeting Wednesday, killing three top regime officials.

AP Photo

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With the smoke from street battles hanging over Damascus, with Russian marines deployed to the Syrian port of Tartus, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar shipping guns to Syrian rebels, with Iran jockeying for influence, and with Israel edgy over Syria’s chemical weapons, it is easy to forget what is really at stake as the Assad regime appears to be unraveling and Syria hurtles into the unknown.

It is certainly not all those strategic national “interests,” as much as they might hold influence over Syria. Rather it is an idea planted almost a decade ago by a group of leading Arab thinkers in a major report backed by the United Nations. The eminent intellectuals declared there is a “thirst for freedom and justice in the Arab conscience.”

The report predicted an izdihar (blossoming) of fundamental rights and freedoms, based in part on a survey of Arab culture – its folk songs, novels, poetry, and siras (life stories). Its affirmation that Arabs do not want to be left out of history’s drive toward democracy helped set the mental climate that seeded the Arab Spring in 2011.

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