When the Arab Spring took hold in Tunisia, Egypt and then Libya, many Middle East analysts doubted it would manage to reach Syria and the long-entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar Assad and his inner circle of ruthless Alawite securocrats. But if the courage of the protesters demanding Assad's ouster confounded expectations, the bloody response of the regime did not. Over almost 10 months of sustained and systematic repression, the Assad regime has killed at least 5,000 Syrians, the U.N. estimates. Assad himself was interviewed by Barbara Walters in December, insisting that he was not responsible for the deaths. But clearly, the man Western and Arab governments and Turkey were prepared a few months ago to give the benefit of the doubt as a "reformer" who could change the dynamic has exhausted their patience. The problem, of course, is that Syria's protest movement has evolved, as a result of Assad's repression, into a full-scale and increasingly sectarian civil war one in which Assad retains considerable support among the Christian and Alawite minorities. Assad closes out 2011 still in charge, if increasingly shakily so and with no intention of going quietly.
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