The end of Al-Assad

Said Shehata , Sunday 29 Jul 2012

Bashar Al-Assad must go, but planning on how to manage the transition is necessary before increasing the pressure for his exit

When demonstrations started in Syria in March 2011, I predicted in a BBC interview that it would take two years for Al-Assad to lose power and be forced to step down. There were many reasons that supported my argument, including local, regional and international factors.

The support of Russia and China has been one of the main tenants of Al-Assad's resilience. This international factor has been crucial in the battle between Al-Assad's regime and the opposition. In addition, the silence of Kurds was shaken and part of the Kurds joined the militant opposition. The business community, especially in Aleppo, has been tested in the current battle between the Syrian army and the Free Syrian Army.

The division amongst opposition forces has been the weakest point in opposition efforts to topple Al-Assad's regime. The signs internally, regionally and internationally tell us that the end of Bashar Al-Assad is coming soon. The departure of Al-Assad might open the door for another Iraq where fighting will carry on between the different sects in Syria, especially in the presence of Al-Qaeda and the influence of some foreign countries.

On the internal level, the Free Syrian Army and other opposition forces have gained financial support and weapons from countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Some soldiers and senior officials in the Syrian army defected and some of them joined the militant opposition. In addition, some politicians defected from the regime, such as Ikhlas Badawi, Nawaf Al-Faris and others. Those defections represent a blow to the regime's morale. The commercial base of the regime started to erode because fighting reached Aleppo, the commercial capital of Syria. However, the army is still on the side of Al-Assad and this is in itself could extend Al-Assad’s time in office.

On the regional level there have been pressures from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others on the Syrian regime. They have provided the opposition with resources to fight the regime. They have also been calling for the departure of Al-Assad. Pressure has been escalating on the regime to stop violence and start a political transition without Al-Assad. However, there are countries that have been on the side of the regime, such as Iran.

On the international level, Russia and China cannot support Al-Assad for long. There has been immense pressure on both countries from the US, UK and other states.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, warned there was "no plan B." "There is one political process for the time being, that is the six-point plan of the joint special envoy Kofi Annan," Ladsous told reporters in Damascus. In addition, the former head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, said it was "only a matter of time" until President Al-Assad is ousted.

However, Russia will not give in easily. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that the world needs to understand that the regime will not allow opposition forces to take parts of Aleppo to build buffer-zones.

The above factors combined could pave the way for Al-Assad to exit the political scene in Syria. But while his chances of staying on appear lost, he is not giving in easily. So far, he has not learned from the mistakes committed and repeated by Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi and Saleh.

If we take Al-Assad out of the political equation in Syria, the future will be uncertain. There is Al-Qaeda's presence, different sects in Syria, disjointed opposition between different political and militant forces, and the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood. There will be revenge against Allawite and pro-government elements. Iraq is a similar example and lessons should be learnt before increasing the pressure to get rid of Al-Assad. He must go, but the process of his departure should be carefully planned. The most important thing is to stop the violence and killings and then talk about political transition without Al-Assad.

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