The ruling elite of Syria are likely monitoring the cataclysmic events in Egypt with both astonishment and fear.

As in Egypt, the Syrians have been rigidly governed by an authoritarian regime (the Baath party) for decades; has a media controlled tightly by the state; and suffers with official corruption, high unemployment and rising poverty.

However, if there is to be any similar civil unrest in the streets of Damascus, the Syrian overlords have already moved to further stifle dissent – likely in response to the tumult in Tunisia and Egypt.

The government of Bashar al-Assad (the son of the prior ruler Hafez al-Assad) has imposed tighter restrictions on internet communications while also increasing fuel subsidies. In addition, a court sentenced a 69-year old leftist to seven years in prison for even daring to propose alternatives to the existing regime.

In recent years, the government brutally suppressed an outbreak of unrest among its ethnic Kurdish community in the east.

Poverty in Syria has been exacerbated by a severe water crisis in its traditional agricultural sector, which has forced hundreds of thousands of people to relocate over the past half-decade. Many of these people have swarmed the major cities seeking work.

However, Syria’s economic problems are not quite as dire as in Egypt – at least not officially.

One in ten Syrians lives in poverty (well below the 40 percent in Egypt); unemployment has reportedly dropped from more than 12 percent in 2005 to 8.1 percent in 2009, one percent below the official rate in Egypt.

Syria and Egypt also have a bit of an odd history – the two countries were once officially joined as one entity despite being geographically separated by hundreds of miles.

During the rule of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, the two nations were united as the United Arab Republic

The union only lasted three years between 1958 and 1961 when Syria seceded.