Believing in the end of Assad |
Arab News - 20 July, 2012
Whatever the diehard views of Bashar Assad, Wednesday's slaying of three of the most important people in his regime, will have convinced many other supporters that the game is up.
Pressure will have been added by an ultimatum from the Free Syria Army that anyone who has not abandoned the dictator by Saturday, will be deemed an enemy and can expect no role in the new Syria. Yet unfortunately, this challenge from the opposition could actually backfire. Though it demonstrates ever-greater confidence in the progress of the insurrection, and will probably end up bringing about even more defections from the military, when the deadline has passed tomorrow, it could start to work against the rebels.
This will happen because soldiers who had failed to defect will fear the consequences of capture in the wake of the regime’s demise. This will mean that they will fight more vigorously and tenaciously than they might have done, even when everything is collapsing around them. Yet if, as seem likely, another amnesty is later offered to Assad’s soldiers, some troops will continue fighting in the expectation that they may receive yet another opportunity to change sides in future.
The regime loyalists most likely to have been affected by the daring assassination of Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, his deputy Assef Shawkat, who was married to Assad’s elder sister, along with former defense supremo, Hassan Turkomani, are others in top positions. They will be figuring that they are the Syrians who have most to lose with Assad’s overthrow. They may already have used their power and authority to shift assets safely abroad. Now they could be planning to be re-united with their money. Unless they know they can be fingered for a specific atrocities, they will be hoping to escape any future war crimes trials. And doubtless, the shredders are already starting to work in many government offices, while hard drives are smashed with sledge hammers, in an attempt to destroy as much evidence of crimes as possible.
Given that more than 20 generals and top army officers have already defected, most of them over the border into Turkey, and been welcomed by the rebel forces, abandoning the regime may still seem relatively risk-free. The real danger probably lies with Syrian intelligence and police, discovering a defector before he can flee. Moreover there remains the serious chance of vicious reprisals being taken against any family of men who have changed sides.
The Assad regime is nothing if not vengeful, as witness the angry and indiscriminate artillery bombardment of Damascus suburbs after Wednesday’s assassinations.
The majority of Syrians, from all communities, are just waiting for the fighting to end. In the constant coverage of the conflict, it is often overlooked that only a relative few of the population of around 22.5 million are actually involved. Thousands have died including innocent civilians caught up in the heartless bombs and barrages that have been unleashed against their villages and city quarters. But for the great mass of people, whatever their political sympathies, the greatest desire is peace. It has, until recently, been clear, that the fear that anarchy could follow the ouster of Assad, has caused a fair number of people to give reluctant support to the regime. Concern about the future will not have gone away, but it will now be obvious to virtually everyone, that the regime is finally crumbling.
The only people who will not be changing sides are the butchers of the Shabbiha militias, whose blood-thirsty slaughter of innocents, was designed to terrorize the people into supporting the regime. When these contemptible thugs find themselves with their backs to the wall, they can be expected to launch one final orgy of hate-fueled violence, which will probably constitute the very last of the Assad regime’s many crimes against humanity.
The tragedy for all Syrians is that the longer the conflict continues, the worse will be the inter-communal wounds that will be inflicted, and therefore the harder it will be for a new and peaceful Syria to be born. For all their success, the opposition still remains pathetically divided. When Assad’s police state tyranny is overwhelmed, there seems precious little chance of any sort of united administration taking its place, until elections can be held. Indeed, the single aim the opposition parties all share, is the overthrow of Assad. Once that becomes a reality, there will be nothing to bind them together and Syria could find itself in a dangerous vacuum.