Saturday, March 26, 2011

Has Assad lost control of Syria?

Ignace Leverrier, a former French diplomat who lived in Damascus, asks this question in Le Monde. His question is prompted by a recent incident where the Syrian Ministry of Information stopped the distribution of a newspaper, Al-Watan, only to allow distribution again. More importantly, he points to the puzzling press conference by Buthaina Shaaban in which she said that the President ordered the police not to shoot at protesters.  We all know what happened the next day.

Are security forces acting independently of Assad, or is the president so devious that he is deliberately making statements that encourage people to demonstrate only to have them shot?

The International Crisis Group published a note yesterday that highlighted the tension between the reformers on one hand and the "old guard" on the other. They argue that:

President Assad must show visible leadership and do so now.  His political capital today depends less on his past foreign policy successes than on his ability to live up to popular expectations at a time of dangerous domestic crisis. 

To my mind, however, it is very clear that Assad simply does not have what it takes to show leadership. The result of all his talk of reform is best summarized by the Human Rights Watch report published on the 10th anniversary of his rise to power: Syria - A Wasted Decade.

As dozens of Syrians get killed, Assad has yet to speak to his people.  He simply sends out Ms. Shaaban to peddle the same promises the world has heard for a decade. Read this article from June 11, 2005 - it sounds like it could have been published it yesterday!

I don't think Assad has "lost" control of Syria, because I don't think he has ever had real control. He accomplished little, which only shows that he is too indecisive or simply unable to lead.  What this means, of course, is that anyone hoping for "change" in Syria should not hold their breath for what Assad will say next. Whatever he says will carry no credibility. The fate of the regime will be decided on the streets, and the turning point will only come when Syria's security forces begin to lose cohesion.

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