- FOCUS ON REGIONS
- ACTIVIST IMAGES
Written by Andrew Puhanic
Published on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
The defection of Prime Minister Riad Hijad, who fled to Jordan en route to Qatar, is only the most recent of a more general exodus in recent weeks that has involved over 40 ranking officials from military, security services, diplomatic and parliamentary ranks. All are mostly Sunnis, like Hijab.
In the dark days of the regime, even Finance Minister Jleilati tried to desert, but was arrested.
Defections and attacks demonstrate how the regime, sabotaged from within, is hard put to hold out much longer.
If, after the officers, even the troops whose lower ranks are mostly made up of Sunnis were to desert en masse, the outcome of the conflict in Syria would be sealed.
The defection of Riad Hijab, a Sunni, is significant not only in terms of the position he occupied, but also because it lifts the mask on Al-Asad’s attempt to portray the revolt as a settling of accounts between a “band of terrorists” and the sole power structure capable of ensuring inter-religious peace.
The Sunnis’ forsaking the regime, those who in the ranks of the Ba’ath party had scaled the power hierarchies, and in exchange for perks and benefits had stood by in silence while Al-Asad’s father and the Alawite minority seized power, sends a powerful message.
While fleeing from his country, Hijab speaks of genocide, but does not refer only to that of a people bombarded by its own governors, but also to that of the Sunni majority, the heart and soul of the revolt against the regime.
The prime minister’s defection should be considered to be a worrying turn of events. It is as if, all individual positions aside, at the sound of the final bell each felt the ancestral call of his own religious group.
Such a prospect, which fits a sectarian logic, stretches to its extreme limits on what is already a civil war, one that fuels the idea of ethnic cleansing on religious grounds, and which makes a clean slate of any possible return to a past that is as recent as it is difficult to duplicate.
A sectarian logic that is amplified by the not that far off clash between the major theocratic powers of reference: Saudi Arabia, with its nearby and increasingly active Qatar, and neo-Ottoman Turkey for the Sunnis; and Iran for the Alawites, a sect of Shi’i derivation.
The Syrian civil war is also a war by proxy. It is a war between regional powers that are seeking hegemony in the area, between more or less planetary powers that aim to broaden and preserve their spheres of influence; between countries that try to extend or circumscribe the limits of the principles of humanitarian interference.
Strategies that only further block the road to a diplomatic solution, as evidenced by the failure of [former UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan’s mission, will lead to a never-ending cycle of violence.
Thus, the war in Syria becomes the theatre of a settling of accounts in which the loser loses all. Hence the decision by Al-Asad, pressured by his clan and by the military hierarchies that have long-standing ties to his father Hafez, to engage in a final clash.
Power is not the only thing at stake, as the loser can look forward to times of harsh repression and religious and social marginalization. For the regime’s top-ranking figures, their very lives are at stake. Bashar knows that by bombing Homs or Hama, and fighting house by house in Aleppo and Damascus, he will be hard put to appeal for protection.
The repression applied by Syrian President Al-Asad has gone too far
It is sad, albeit realistic, to say that, in this context, the civil war is fated to end, at least in the terms with which we are more familiar, only with the definitive defeat of one of the two contending parties.
Even if Tehran, after having sought to militarily keep the regime on its feet, could decide to opt with Russian help for an internal solution, It would be one in which Iran would act as warrantor and as a bordering power.
Yet, the “Yemeni route,” with Iran in a reversed role played out in Sana’a by the Saudis, is to be considered ruled out after Al-Asad’s unleashing of tanks against civilians and so much bloodshed.
If for no other reason than the Sunnis, being the majority in the country, are claiming the same power that the Shi’i majority in Iraq are claiming, even without the help of Iran, they will manage to gain the most.