Why Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is Still in Power
Randa Slim, in a piece for Foreign Policy, outlined why President Bashar al-Assad is still in power despite international calls for him to step down and a growing civil war in Syria. Slim points out that Assad’s inner circle remains strong, despite a bombing in July that killed four members of the regime, in addition to numerous defections. The high-profile defections of Prime Minister Riad Hijab and former Republican Guard commander Manaf Tlass were viewed by Assad as a form of “self-cleansing.” Slim notes that although the inner circle is shrinking, it is becoming increasingly determined and bold.
Additionally, the Syrian military remains an imposing force with an estimated 295,000 soldiers, and 314,000 more in reserve. Although reports of defection are consistent, Free Syrian Army commander Qassim Saadeddine confirmed that defectors represent only 30 percent of the FSA’s ranks. Additionally, the rebel force appears to have discouraged defection: “a recent YouTube video showing rebels executing a group of unarmed Syrian soldiers will only convince other soldiers to stick with the regime,” Slim points out.
Although some Alawites back the opposition’s rebellion, the community remains generally supportive of the Assad regime. Slim places heavy emphasis on the Alawite community, saying “any hope for regime implosion rests on Alawites’ de-linking their physical survival from Assad’s political survival.” Robert Fisk echoed similar sentiments in an article for The Independent.
Finally, there are concerns that the Syrian opposition remains fractured, despite the recent creation of the Syrian National Coalition. Although various groups have been working on a contingency plan, called the “Day After” project, Slim argues “there is not yet a common political vision of how to get from now to the day after Assad’s fall.” She notes that jihadist groups are on the rise, while the activists and civic groups who launched the initial uprising have been increasingly marginalized. Slim warns that “no matter who takes the helm of the Syrian regime in the future, they will be forced to deal with an empowered citizenry that will no longer accept being ruled by an iron fist.”