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Syria: Assad’s Confidence May Prove Misplaced – OpEd


By S. Faisal Ali

The Arab world has seen an unprecedented upsurge in public anger against some governments since the Tunisian revolution.

Many of the strongmen of the region have been overthrown and consigned to the dustbin of history, giving a strong sense of belief to the masses that they can achieve their aims through their homegrown movements.

Syrians, charged by this belief, have taken to the streets demanding change to the system. Massive protests in many parts of the country are being dealt with excessive use of force by the repressive regime of Bashar Assad. Thousands of innocent people have died while trying to exercise their democratic rights.

After 10 months of unrest in which thousands have died, Syria’s economy is shrinking rapidly, crippled by an embargo on its oil exports and huge disruption to trade and business. The Arab League has suspended Damascus and announced its own sanctions on Syria, leaving President Assad ever more isolated.

Still there are many who doubt that Syria is on the verge of collapse following its own Arab Spring, saying that the country has historically pushed ahead during such transitions.

These optimists find no evidence to conclude that Syria is on the verge of breaking up or its ever-growing discontent will trigger a collapse of the Baathist rule.

The recent defiant appearances by Assad bolster this view and show the Syrian leader’s misplaced confidence that he can lead his country out of bloodshed and turmoil, but will do nothing to silence opponents seeking, and expecting, his downfall.

The leader’s appearances have failed to deflect opponents’ demands for his overthrow and those who say his bloody crackdown on 10 months of protest has robbed him of any legitimacy to rule Syria. His body language, his speech and action made it loud and clear that he was in complete denial of the situation on the ground.

Definitely, Assad is suffering from delusion, which is common to autocratic leaders. But at the same time there are reasons for him to be so confident.

Perhaps he has reasons to believe that there is no immediate threat to his regime and with time and means on his side he will be able to suppress the popular rebellion.

Many experts have said that Assad still enjoys support among a sizable number of the population and Damascus has not witnessed the Tahrir Square-type of continuous and sustainable demonstrations yet.

Visitors to Syria also say that the country, though tense, is mostly peaceful and the anti-government demonstrations and protests are taking place primarily in some areas near Homs and a few other cities.

Moreover, many Syrians, though opposed to Assad, are wary of any Iraq-like situation developing in case of the regime’s collapse in a country that has gone through decades of sanctions and isolation. Assad’s confidence also comes from the fact that the opposition, for all their strength, do not have the momentum, expertise or the kind of domestic or international support and weaponry with them to bring about a shift in the balance of power. The Syrian Army, meanwhile, is well trained and enjoys the confidence of the government.

The Syrian regime is relaxed also due the fact that there is no consensus on the issue in the Arab world.

Though, Syria is teetering under the repressive rule of Assad, there is, however, no consensus among its Gulf Arab neighbors on how to deal with this latest and prolonged turmoil in their backyard.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also not came out with any clearly-laid plans for Syria. More so, the group is firmly opposed to any international military intervention in Syria and has called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict through regional means. Its Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu has completely ruled out military intervention despite the call of the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani for sending Arab troops to Syria.

Ihsanoglu says, “We have seen the disaster and turmoil brought by international military intervention in more than one place, be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or any other place. So, we fully oppose the idea of any such intervention but are open to dialogue and regional endeavors to resolve the conflict and to stop the bloodshed in Syria.”

What those regional endeavors could be, he has not spelled out.

Also there is no “Arab force” either under the banner of Arab League or the OIC that could be sent in and if there is to be an intervening force, what will be its composition? Who is willing to send in troops? These are questions that need to be answered before even considering intervention.

There are divisions within the League as the situation in Syria is more complex because Syria lies at the heart of the Arab world, unlike Libya. Its proximity to Iran makes the situation more complicated.

There is little appetite among Arabs or in the Security Council for a full-scale escalation against Syria. The strategic location of Syria also has to be weighed, for any major moves could likely cause upheavals that could further destabilize a troubled and divided region.

The Arab League, which has sent observers to Syria, is struggling to salvage any credibility as its members start to walk out. The Syrian opposition calls its mission a failure as the killings of anti-government protesters continue.

Many believe if the international and Arab community fails to come to a common understanding soon the situation in Syria will further deteriorate and that could have long-lasting consequences for the region.

But also, Assad needs to realize that the time has come to loosen his grip on power. If he still remains defiant and relies only on the information fed by sycophants and is unwilling to initiate thorough social, economic and political reforms, then it will only be a matter of time when he too could meet the fate of other despots.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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