Syrian activists are losing hope that pro-democracy protests will topple the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad and fear that his use of force against protesters may crush the movement.
Activists from inside and outside Syria said a fragmented opposition had failed to build on street demonstrations which broke out seven weeks ago demanding greater freedoms, missing a fleeting opportunity to press for reforms from the Baath party led by the Assad family for the past four decades.
“The forces on the ground can not topple the regime... They have lost a golden and rare opportunity to do something,” said Abdul Karim-Rihawi, head of the Human Rights League in Damascus.
“The protests will continue but will not grow in popularity,” he said, adding that Assad might deploy even greater force to crush them if necessary.
Under the rule of Assad’s father, Hafez, Syrian forces razed the old quarter of the city of Hama in 1982 to end an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Up to 30,000 people were killed.
“If, God forbid, the regime crushes the protests then I think it will take us 50 years before we move again,” said another Syrian activist who lives in exile.
Analysts say that the unrest may not topple Assad but has definitely shaken his rule.
But, the downbeat comments from some activists, which contrast with statements from others who say Assad’s use of force will only increase protesters’ determination, reflect frustration at the inability to rally the same numbers as the Egyptian uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak, or to agree a political manifesto.