Paul Greenberg

If the news from Syria isn't about another massacre, it's about preparations for one. Bashar al-Assad's once iron rule of that country is being challenged, and the result is almost daily bloodshed, especially on Fridays, the Muslim sabbath, when the crowds go directly from mosque to demonstrations. Or to the funerals of those slain the day before, which have a way of turning into more protests and attracting more gunfire. The deadly cycle continues, and nobody knows where it will end. Especially the dictator, who grows more than usually desperate and therefore more than usually dangerous. Maybe he'll survive, maybe he won't. The only thing for sure is that a lot of Syrians won't. Not that its ruler cares about their fate, but only about how all the death and destruction might affect his own.

That's the Middle East.

Bashar al-Assad was supposed to be a milder ruler when he succeeded his father, but we all know how that turned out, and tends to turn out in the Middle East. Behind the face of every reformer, the same old power lust lurks, and tends to erupt when power, new or old, is challenged. As it is being challenged in today's Syria as the regime's once imposing structure develops surprising cracks.

Who would have thought all this possible only a year ago? As an old revolutionary named Trotsky once noted, revolution always appears impossible before it becomes inevitable.

Just ask Hosni Mubarak, who was once the most powerful man in populous Egypt, and is now on trial or in the hospital, maybe both. Pharaohs come and go in that ancient land, sometimes suddenly. And the revolutionaries may prove as pitiless as those they overthrow.

Hosni Mubarak seemed invincible before he became indictable. His fate must be constantly on the mind of his Syrian counterpart -- and on the minds of all the remaining strongmen of the Middle East, who aren't as strong as they once were. See what's happening in Bahrain and Yemen and could happen one day even in Saudi Arabia. Uneasy lies the head that wears the keffiyeh-and-agal. Every day brings news of another confrontation in Syria, of demonstrators being shot down or, these days, even shooting back. But the other day it wasn't Syrians who were doing the shooting but Israelis. This time a group of marchers were fired upon as they tried to cross the border into the Jewish state despite signs, barbed wire, tear gas and even warning shots.

Nothing availed. They kept coming, like lemmings bent on their own destruction.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.