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Dr Musa A Keilani: No change on the horizon
February 07, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

As the third Alawite dynasty since the Emirate of Aleppo that was founded centuries ago, it is wishful thinking that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad will step down and go into exile in the face of the growing movement calling for his ouster. It is simply not in the blood of the Assad regime to succumb to pressure of any kind neither now nor 30 years ago when the Hama protesters surrendered following the decimation of 22,000 Hama citizens.

The Syrian regime has only stepped up its violent crackdown against protesters despite Arab League calls and Arab observers who were present in the country to determine whether Syrian state security forces were indeed killing dissidents.

Accounts from Syria say that there is little distinction between innocent civilians and street protesters in the crackdown. Security forces are entering town by town and simply shooting down whoever came to sight in an apparent effort to terrify everyone and send a message that any move to challenge the regime would be met with violence.

The Damascus regime is maintaining that there is no anti-Assad movement in the country and thugs hired by foreign governments are trying to oust the regime. It is against this backdrop that officials say that the United States, European governments and Arab states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Assad in Turkey where he can be in the company of ten million fellow Turkish Alawites.

The possibility remains open that the talk of a refuge for Assad and his people is aimed at stepping up psychological pressure and open new cracks in his inner circle. But the talk is hollow because Assad, like Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi, could not come to terms with the reality that he has no future in his country and would fight to his last.

Record shows that Qadhafi had one of the strongest fighting forces, including the country’s military and thousands of African mercenaries whom he used ruthlessly against all those who challenged his continued rule. However, his stronghold in the Libyan capital Tripoli fell like a house of cards in a matter of 48 to 72 hours.

Of course, it could be argued that it was the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato)-led military action that was decisive in Libya and that the West has no stomach to run a repeat of the move in Syria. Another argument is that a regime change in Damascus will cause regional upheavals that could dramatically change the political landscape, given that Syria has several countries neighbouring it and all of them would be hit one way or another.

In the meantime, the Assad regime is reportedly preparing for a full-scale civil war, and building a fortress for the Syrian ruler and his family in addition to loyal generals in the north-western Al Enseriah Mountains in the event of the situation getting too hot in Damascus.

Syrian engineering corps crews are reportedly working speedily to build what is described as “a fortified encampment, partly inside caves and tunnels, on the wooded slopes, in addition to another Eagle’s Nest on top.”

The perimeter of the fortress is enclosed with anti-tank defences armed with anti-air batteries and it is expected to be one of the three most heavily fortified strongholds in the Middle East.

A press report says that large groups of Alawite families have already moved in to new homes in the encampment and fortified facilities, while supplies are being provided for Alawite families unable to leave their towns and villages.

The “mass relocation,” says the report, will involve around a million Alawites, or a third of the 3.5 million members of the sect, which numbers just over one-tenth of Syria’s total population.

Well, we heard similar reports from Libya in the final months of the anti-Qadhafi revolt. But, as we know now from Libyan experience, nothing could help any regime to survive itself against the inevitable.

In the case of Syria, the Russian and Chinese stand against any serious and effective international action to end the bloodshed. They help the regime to prolong the conflict for a considerable period chasing wild hopes of a defeat of the people. But then, the countries which have a direct stake in whatever happens in Syria could not be expected to remain inactive either.

It is not in the interest of the region to let the Syrian crisis continue. The more prolonged it is, the more the fissures in the region.

The US-led West might be able to afford the time, but the people of Syria could not wait forever without an end to the crisis in sight. That is something that has to be realised by the Russian and Chinese governments. And they could be held responsible, morally and otherwise, for the ongoing carnage in Syria.
The author, a former jordanian ambassador,
is the chief editor of Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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