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article imageOp-Ed: Another annum for Assad?

By Paul Iddon     Dec 21, 2012 in Politics
Syria's President-for-life Bashar al-Assad may cling to power for a longer period than is being anticipated and speculated.
Syria's hereditary President-for-life Bashar al-Assad's power and grip over territory in his country seems to be steadily diminishing. Nevertheless the dictator is still in power, and is still attacking his armed opponents in Homs, Aleppo and Hama respectively. Recent developments in the past few days has seen to his regime employing short range “Scud-type missiles” against his enemy. An alleged action which NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described as an “act of a desperate regime approaching collapse.”
The eclectic opposition – which consists of the most extreme and violent of Islamists to the most passive of secularists and democrats – may devolve into separate factions that will continue the Syrian Civil War even if Assad and his regime crumbles before the beginning of 2013. The rebels previous offensive operations against Damascus have been repulsed by the superior prowess and technological superiority of the Syrian military. Apart from the outlying suburbs the regime still reigns supreme when it comes to control of the capital. Damascus remains Assad's center of power and the powerhouse of the regime, from this stronghold Assad can strike at his enemies and kill them in scores -- often alongside scores of innocent civilians in the urban confines of Aleppo and Homs.
The country's largest city Aleppo has had its heritage sites ravaged by the war. Most notably the ancient souk (market place) was destroyed during street fighting as the rebels moved in last July. Accordingly elements of the opposition and its supporters have called for the opposition to avoid using mosques or churches in future engagements in the country's capital to avoid their destruction and desecration.
In Aleppo itself it is estimated that the rebels control about half of the city and after months of persistence and attacking have been unable to gain any more ground. Reports show some of their policies in the territories they already control are ones of implementing a strict form of Islamic law. For example, gangs of men are going around ensuring women don't drive, no one is consuming any alcohol and that people are praying. This is not to say that all the opposition are fanatical Islamists but it does nonetheless show how these elements of the opposition may undermine the heartfelt desire of many Syrians to end 42-years of the Assad dynasties rule on their land and establish a democratic and secular state.
Furthermore the open Saudi endorsement of the opposition and its funding and arming from Saudi sources through Turkey is something that may make many Syrians oppose the mainstream opposition that is carrying out a good deal of the fighting. This coupled with the provable war crimes that are attributed to this opposition is also another thing that could see to the Syrian public being even more divided in this war. These are all very negative factors and warning signs that this war may go on for some time. Even if it does, which there is a strong possibility that it will, continue after Assad is either killed or ousted it could last for several more years and resemble the 15-year Lebanon War that raged next door from 1975 until Syria intervened and formally annexed that country in 1990 -- after which it proceeded to occupy for another 15 years until popular revolt forced them to pull out in 2005.
When speculating about Syria's future (and we should bear in mind that is all we are doing and can do as distant observers, speculate) we shouldn't set aside the contentions and outlooks of the various ethnic minorities in the country. Whilst the Alawaii minority that Mr. Assad comes from along with the Christians are a small minority in the country the Kurds are also a sizable minority. They don't particularly like Assad, as in his Syria they are more or less segregated and registered as foreigners, aliens in their own land. But they also detest Turkey for the policies it has taken against their kinsmen in that country's south-east. On top of this they have stated they will fight any foreign intervention, even if launched under the pretext of protecting civilians in the north or of toppling the Assad regime itself.
Assad will probably last for at least the rest of 2012 and there is a good chance he will last until March of 2013 (which will mark two whole years of fighting and strife in Syria!) if not the rest of next year. However no one can say or estimate for sure and I'd furthermore contend we need to be lukewarm in trying to gauge such timelines. But we should also be careful what we wish for, whilst one would personally like to see Assad ousted from power and a democratic government come into fruition in Syria one cannot help but to suspect that will not be the case if the current members of the opposition taking up an armed struggle against Assad prevail in the battlefield. I contend this to be the case from simply looking at the pronouncements they've made and policies some of them are trying to implement (hence the aforementioned implementation of strict Islamist law in the countryside around Aleppo).
Also the 'Lebanonization' of Syria is another factor one should consider if Syria completely collapses, this could see successor regimes fight it out for control until another strongman like Assad emerges and uses state oppression in order to control the country and bring into being a degree of calm. Also if an Islamist power base manages to erect a regime in Damascus it may continue policies Assad has in the past, hence exporting and funding terrorist organizations. Lebanon itself is already being directly affected and may be even more affected by the sectarian aspects of this war in the near future. Swaths of the opposition are also quite keen on reclaiming the Golan Heights by force from Israel and possibly moving on further south under the pretext of 'liberating Palestine'.
With very probable outcomes like these one should be careful what one wishes for. No sober minded or moral individual wants a tyrant like Assad to continue to reign in Syria and oppress and brutalize his opponents in that country -- and indeed beyond its frontiers. Nevertheless one should be more calculating and lukewarm when it comes to advocating any armed opposition that also happens to oppose his brutal regime, albeit for very difference reasons. As one may find oneself essentially, nonetheless inadvertently, advocating another form of tyranny to rise from the rubble of a devastated country, the people of which are bearing the brunt of the horror and despair that comes from such intense war and terror. Tyranny may continue to the case with Assad if he reigns supreme over the battlefield and continues to preside over a divided and ravaged land. If he is serious about fighting to the last breath, and maintains not only his elite Republican Guard units but also the states large army of professional soldiers in order to do just that, then any victor who manages to oust him in armed confrontation may also end up reigning over an even more devastated and divided nation.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Bashar alAssad, Syria, Syrian crisis, Syrian civil war, Aleppo
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