The Calm Before the Storm

Why Volatility Signals Stability, and Vice Versa

The aftermath of an airstrike in Aleppo, November 2014. Rami Zayat / Courtesy Reuters

Even as protests spread across the Middle East in early 2011, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria appeared immune from the upheaval. Assad had ruled comfortably for over a decade, having replaced his father, Hafez, who himself had held power for the previous three decades. Many pundits argued that Syria’s sturdy police state, which exercised tight control over the country’s people and economy, would survive the Arab Spring undisturbed. Compared with its neighbor Lebanon, Syria looked positively stable. Civil war had torn through Lebanon throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, and the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 had plunged the country into yet more chaos.

But appearances were deceiving: today, Syria is in a shambles, with the regime fighting for its very survival, whereas Lebanon has withstood the influx of Syrian refugees and the other considerable pressures of the civil war next door. Surprising

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