Time running out for Bashar

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 14 Jul 2011

In Syria, one Assad is digging the grave of another – and possibly of the whole regime, say foreign diplomats and analysts

Bashar al-Assad
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (Photo: Reuters)

"The trouble today is very clear: even if Bashar [Assad, the president of Syria] wants to reform and to live up to the demands of the people and the expectations of the international community, he would not be allowed to due to the pressure of his brother Maher who is effectively controlling the elite divisions of the army," remarked a foreign diplomat who has recently visited Damascus.

According to this diplomat, "before we were suspecting the matter and cautiously talking about it, but now it has become an open secret to the extent the Turks are trying to convince Maher to go over to live in Turkey."

Maher has firmly declined all such proposals, according to this and other foreign diplomats who work in and on Syria. They add that he has gone as far as “making it clear” to Assad that there is a clear limit that the Syrian president cannot cross in inducing political reforms.

"The trouble is that for Maher the red line starts way ahead of the demands of the public; Bashar is really trapped," says a Western diplomat who follows the Syria developments.

This argument is corroborated by a report that the International Crisis Group (ICG) has just issued on the situation in Syria. ‘The Syrian regime's slow-motion suicide’ argues that the regime of Assad is walking its way to an inevitable end.

"Desperate to survive at all costs, Syria’s regime appears to be digging its grave," states the report that was issued in Brussels on Wednesday (yesterday).

While noting that unlike other Arab leaders who have been faced with the wrath of their peoples the regime of Assad enjoyed some popularity, the ICG report states that this popularity is wearing thin in the face of growing protests "that are getting stronger."

"But whatever opportunity the regime once possessed is being jeopardised by its actions," argues the ICG report. It adds that the "brutal repression has overshadowed belated, half-hearted reform suggestions." And it concludes that it seems more likely than not that during the past few months "Bashar has squandered credibility; his regime has lost much of the legitimacy derived from its foreign policy."

Today, says the ICG, even the fear of instability that the regime of Assad once bargained to ensure its survival is not working and Syrian society is departing from its typical fears over possible wide unrest that might divide their community – or worse their country.

"My fear is that if Bashar does not take serious steps towards accommodating the increasing public demand for reforms he might drive Syria to be like Iraq during the last few years of the rule of Saddam Hussein – a country that seems to be united when in fact it is divided and non-functioning," said yet another foreign diplomat who works in Syria.

And like the ICG report that casts considerable doubt on the chances of the currently conducted “national dialogue” to deliver a consensual package of reforms, this diplomat is also arguing that this initiative is "more of an act to promote the commitment of the regime to reform than a true indication of the intention of the regime to reform."

"Bashar had the chance to reform when he took over power following the death of his father [Hafez Assad] some ten years ago – today it is too late and in fact he is too weak to do it, not just because of the brutal influence of Maher but also because of Bashar's own declining influence."

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources in New York tell Ahram Online that the discussions over a UN Security Council resolution on Syria shows that an announcement of the regime’s death is not yet prepared. They, however, add it might not be too long before such an announcement is made.

For these diplomats, the consecutive statements of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and of US President Barack Obama about the ending credibility of Bashar is not quite an announcement of the end of the Syrian president and his regime but rather an announcement that this end is no longer being excluded as a possibility by Western capitals that have so far hoped that Bashar will reform and survive.

Meanwhile, the newly assigned Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi said in Damascus on Wednesday "that nobody has the right to say that a president of a country has lost his legitimacy and that this is something for the peoples of that country to decide."

El-Arabi, speaking in the Syrian capital following talks with Assad and his senior aides during a one-day visit, stressed that the Arab organisation rejects all forms of intervention in the internal affairs of its member states.

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