“The Syrian people are chicken,” says Lochmann, a Kurdish architect who supports the opposition and asked for his last name to be withheld. Syrians understand the government’s swift and violent approach to suppressing dissent, he explains, from the razing of the Muslim Brotherhood-stronghold of Hama in 1982 by former President Hafez al-Assad to the crackdown by his son, current President Bashar al-Assad, on Kurdish protesters in eastern Syria in 2004 that killed at least 30 people and imprisoned hundreds.
The protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen have not gone unnoticed in Syria. During a recent drive through Damascus, a chatty taxi driver named Ahmad talked excitedly about the uprisings. “Arab people are ready for change,” he said. But when asked if Syria was similarly prepared, he answered simply: “No.”
Indeed, citizens often responded nervously to questions about the impact of regional protests on Syria.
When asked about whether the army is training soldiers on crowd control, a young soldier named Muhammad said: “No, it’s the same as usual. We prepare to fight Israel.”
The threat of sudden, secretive detention is one useful deterrent against dissent. Some 10,000 political prisoners reside inside Syria’s jails.
Another is the lesson of Iraq. “The presence of almost 1 million Iraqi refugees has chastened them to the dangers of regime collapse in a religiously divided society,” Mr. Landis says.