Moment of Truth for Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad

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As the Syrian government struggles to contain what is turning out to be a resilient opposition movement, many commentators and analysts are beginning to consider the options left to the Assad regime. While some are clearly calling for it to get out of the way, others are quick to point out that a lasting solution must be the result of a dialogue between the opposition and the regime.

The Saudi Gazette editorial criticizes the recent move of Syrian forces against Homs, one of the opposition’s strongholds: “The choice of Homs as a focal point for Syrian forces to combat the anti-Assad protest movement that has swept the country may strike Syrian authorities as mandatory, given the high degree of anti-Assad activism that has embroiled the city. As a public relations move, however, it is disastrous and will most certainly add to the Syrian government’s deteriorating image on the international stage. It is also likely to spur even more protests against the Assad regime…. That is just another miscalculation on the part of the Syrian government. Under such circumstances, government sources of information will be the most doubted. Just another instance of Syria shooting itself in the foot while it shoots its own population to death.

The Lebanese Daily Star editorial also takes issue with Assad’s choice of violence over reconciliation: “As the now-daily stream of available information racks up the Syrian uprising’s body count, it is easy to forget it started with a simple, peaceful demand. The Syrian people began demonstrating asking for greater freedom…. It scarcely needs repeating that the only avenue available to Assad is to listen to the masses, to implement immediate and tangible reform that improves their lives and addresses their grievances. No one is claiming this will be easy. But every journey, no matter how long or arduous, begins with the first step. The road is difficult, but killing innocent civilians has never been an effective way of smoothing the surface…. Assad knows what he needs to do. The Syrian people, Arab nations and the world at large hold their collective breaths in the hope that he acts upon it.”

Patrick Seale, writing in the daily Gulf News, insists there must be a solution that will satisfy both parties: “The opposition faces a stark choice: either to go all out to bring the regime down, or to cooperate with it in building a new and better Syria. The first course is hazardous: if the Baathist state is torn down, what will replace it? The future is uncharted. The second course requires an act of faith: it means accepting that the regime truly wants to implement radical reforms by means of a national dialogue. Its attempt to launch such a dialogue has so far failed to convince…. No one should suppose that the Syrian regime will go down without a fight. Most regimes seek to destroy their enemies…. A sectarian civil war on the Iraqi or Lebanese model is every Syrian’s nightmare. There must surely be another way out of the crisis.”

Husam Itan in Al-Hayat is both more specific on what the new compromise should look like as well as more pessimistic about the possibility of its taking place: “The events witnessed in Homs since the beginning of the week leave no room for any doubts over the fact that the authority in Syria has relinquished “dialogue” and turned toward pure violence to suppress the ongoing uprising staged against it. Journalistic and diplomatic information reveal that the narrow circle surrounding President Bashar al-Assad decided to no longer offer additional ‘concessions’ to the oppositionists, and hold on to power regardless of the cost…. It would not be unfair to the Syrian opposition if we were to say that change should either be toward a state that treats all its citizens equally and rejects sectarianism, denominationalism and all their offshoots or should not be. This is true despite the realization in advance of the fact that the wheel of change has started turning, which is increasing the urgent character and necessity of the alertness.”

While the Assad regime has done little to bring in the opposition leaders, the latter have, according a Khaleej Times editorial, been meeting to come up with a unified front: “The opposition has formulated a strategy for the ouster of the regime. Meeting at the National Salvage Congress in Istanbul, hundreds of opposition figures and exiled dissidents agreed to launch a civil disobedience movement against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime. By doing so, the aim is to intensify the efforts already underway in the form of protests against the government. According to Wael Al Hafez, an opposition figure, the new effort would be to ‘choke the regime economically and paralyse the state with the least damage.’… Given the unravelling situation, Assad, by giving in to further repression and brutality, may have lost his one chance to reverse the situation.”

However, the most hard-hitting article comes from Hussein Shobokshi who in Asharq Al-Awsat characterizes Assad as “more dangerous than Gaddafi” and accuses the Syrian regime of “systemically suppressing and killing unarmed and peaceful protesters ever since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising approximately 4 months ago…. Now the Syrian regime is arming some pro-regime sectarian elements for the sake of ‘self-defense.’… What is truly astonishing is the disgraceful international and Arab silence with regards to the heinous crimes committed by the al-Assad regime…. This international and Arab silence towards the Syrian crisis is completely unacceptable.… The Arabs should not feign shock at calls for foreign intervention in order to resolve this crisis…. Turning a blind eye to the crimes committed by the Syrian regime against its people represents a stigma for everyone involved. Just as the international community announced that Gaddafi had lost his legitimacy, it must also act in the same manner towards the Syrian regime.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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