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November 15, 2011, Tuesday

Countdown kicks off for Assad regime

It can comfortably be said, in light of recent developments, that the countdown to the end of Syria’s Assad regime has begun. Recently, Taraf columnist Yasemin Çongar wrote that “the Turkish and American authorities who predicted a certain lifetime for the Bashar al-Assad regime before the middle of last week unanimously said he would be toppled within six months to one-and-a-half years. However, developments in the past few days make us think that Assad has turned the final corner on the path toward the end much earlier than expected.”

Before early 2011, when the Arab Spring began to shift the political balance in the Middle East, hopes were high that Bashar al-Assad, who was thought to know the world better with his young, moderate and flexible personality, would do the right thing for his people and his country. However, instead of sharing the rule he inherited from his father with the people, Assad preferred to maintain the reign of the minority he represents at all costs. In other words, he did wrong. Now, almost everyone agrees that Assad has crossed a line irreversibly. No one now believes or hopes that Assad’s regime will introduce reforms that would fulfill the expectations of the people and demonstrate respect for rights and freedom. The suggestion that Assad listen to the expectations of his people have long ago changed into a demand that he just go already.

Turkey, which was one of the countries in the region closest to the Assad regime, has experienced this process well ahead of other nations both in the region and the world. Turkey first exhausted all good-faith, friendly, peaceful, political and diplomatic alternatives in its relationship with the Assad regime. It made constructive recommendations to Assad. He was given a lot of time to comply, and now Turkey has waited for a long time, longer than it actually should have. When it became evident that Assad was trying to buy time with Turkey, sanctions were gradually imposed, and the Syrian opposition garnered Turkey’s support. The doors were opened wide for those fleeing Assad’s brutality. İstanbul has become a gathering center for the opponents of the Assad regime, regardless of their political tendencies. At great risk, Turkey has taken the lead with respect to supporting change in Syria. And now it is paying the bill for this, with efforts on Syria’s part to strengthen contact with the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which it sponsored and harbored in the 1980s and 1990s, and convert it into a tool to paralyze Turkey. Currently, every terror incident carried out by the PKK in Turkey is directly or indirectly associated with Syria.

Luckily, Turkey is no longer the only country in the region complaining about the brutality of the Syrian regime. The Arab League, which went through a process of declining relations similar to Turkey’s with Syria, observing that the Assad regime did not comply with the principles it agreed to on Nov. 2, to stop repressing its citizens and introduce reforms, has finally suspended Syria’s membership. The Arab League has also begun to hold meetings with the Syrian opposition, which has been largely organized in İstanbul. Everyone should rest assured that this development will have a lethal impact for the Assad regime. As a regime of repression, which lost its legitimacy by means of this decision, the Assad regime has officially become an international problem. Of course, the ability of the Assad regime to survive after this decision will be limited. As underlined in a statement by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the violence exerted by the regime, which resulted in the death of 69 people including members of the Syrian army on Monday alone, as well as the counter-violence it has spawned, will do nothing but continue to contribute to increasing the death toll, which already exceeds 3,500, because the despotic regime in Syria has lost what national and international legitimacy it had and reached the end of its historical lifetime.

The partial support that Iran, Russia and China lend to Syria should not be confused with international legitimacy. In an attempt not to lose another rare strategic ally in the Middle East region, China and Russia are hopelessly rowing against the course of history. Neither the support of China and Russia nor that of Iran will suffice to save Assad. The reports of additional sanctions in the aftermath of the publication of the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear ambitions signals that Iran will have to take care of itself rather than worrying about Syria. It was already possible to predict that the threats targeting Iran over suspicions that it is trying to get nuclear weapons would have a destructive effect on the Assad regime as well. I think there is reason to believe that the recent explosion in an ammunition store belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, resulting in the death of 17 people including some leading names, was not an accident, and that its timing was no coincidence. Pro-Teheran forces in Lebanon, which are under the patronage of Iran, might take action to sustain the status quo and influence of their ally, the Damascus administration, and this possibility should be taken into account during this process.

Despite all of the supporting external factors Assad relies on, what will dissolve this regime, whose sphere of action has been restricted abroad and which has become increasingly outdated, will be the collapse of the fragile domestic economic-political coalition that currently supports the survival of the regime. As the general belief and expectation that the fate of the Assad regime id going the way of Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and Bin Ali becomes stronger, it can be expected that especially the non-Nusayri elements of this coalition will define a new position, depending on the probable political outlook for the future. The security weakness created by increased defections in the Syrian army, as well as the possibility that the domestic coalition the regime relies on will dissolve at a surprising rate after the consolidation of the opposition they have joined, deserves attention.

Neither the pragmatic support of China and Russia, who are primarily considering their own short term interests, nor the support of Iran, which is on its way to becoming a country that itself needs support, will suffice to sustain the Assad regime, which has never been well-liked by the West, has now exhausted the friendship of its friends, including Turkey, and has been alienated and isolated in the Arab region by being deprived of the traditional Arab solidarity by the recent Arab League decision. The most lethal hit to Assad will come from his domestic allies, including many in Aleppo and Damascus, who will redefine their positions depending on the changing outlook in the country.

We still hope that the Assad regime will keep the death toll to 3,500, which is already too many. We hope that he will step down and open up his country’s horizons, so he can save himself and his relatives from a shameful situation like Muammar Gaddafi’s final days. However, although the inevitable end is clear, neither Assad nor the people around him are showing a shred of prudence or wisdom about this. This must be the blindness of power.

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