The key problem for Bashri al-Assad's regime is that the protests have now spread to the middle classes and the government is constantly one step behind. As my friend remarks: "Each time it misses the opportunity to take the initiative and each time they get worse." Like Egypt, Syria is now suffering from a slump in tourism. People have cancelled their trips and businesses are idle. This could push things either way: towards calm as people worry about their livelihoods or towards conflict, as unemployed youths take to the streets and demand change.
The situation is posing a number of questions for the British government. The Syrian regime, like all dictatorships, is blaming foreign powers for the protests. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, however, people seem more inclined to believe them. External interference may therefore be counterproductive.
Finally, there seems to be a disagreement at the heart of the British establishment about the Syrian president. Bashir al-Assad has been president for 11 years, having inherited the post on the death in 2000 of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for the previous 30 years. Some senior officials think he is a "decent-enough guy" controlled by a self-serving elite he cannot overrule. Others think this argument overdone, believing that the Syrian leader's trick is to pretend to be weak. It is certainly true that many British leaders have thought they could turn the Assads, only to be frustrated.
Democratic change in Syria will benefit the people and have a positive impact on the region, removing a key ally of Iran and improving the prospects of peace with Israel and less interference in Lebanon. The risk, however, is that the road to democracy will be doused with blood.