What future for Syria?

A debate on the likely outcomes of the protests in Damascus and elsewhere.

Where does Syria's future lie -- and is Bashar Al-Assad part of the problem, or part of the solution? What should the West do to encourage reform in the country? A panel discussion at the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington attempted to address these questions.

The speakers were Chris Doyle of Caabu; Malik Al-Abdeh of the London-based opposition channel Barada TV; Gilbert Achcar, professor of development studies and international relations at SOAS; and Ammar Waqqaf, a member of Syrians in Britain, a group which supports the Assad government's reform programme.

Doyle kicked off by saying that he believes the Assad regime will go, and Achcar agreed, although he added that he was less optimistic about the country's immediate future. "The challenge is how to reconstruct the Syrian state in a way that resembles the political majority in the country while guaranteeing the rights of minorites," said Al-Abdeh, "This is the fundamental struggle."

Waqqaf, who believes that Assad regime should remain in place and embrace a reformist agenda, raised concerns that opposition forces' actions were "devastating to social cohesion".

The discussion also covered the issue of social media -- a key factor in other Arab Spring uprisings. Al-Abdeh said that Syria's protests were a "YouTube revolution", as the video-sharing site provided a less risky way for activists to document what was happening in the country than Facebook and Twitter. Barada TV is now running shows based around uploaded YouTube clips. "Most people in the Arab world get their information from TV, not the internet, so we're putting the internet on TV," he said.

There was also a heated exchange between Al-Abdeh and Achcar about the use of a no-fly zone ("it doesn't make sense," said the latter), and a broader discussion about whether the rank-and-file of the Army were deserting in the large numbers which have been reported. Questions were asked from the floor about the state of civil society in Syria, and the role of women in the uprising.

Look out for future events at Newstatesman.com and MosaicRooms.org; for Olivier Roy's take on Syria in the New Statesman magazine, click here.