“Syria’s Assad regime is doomed, but the battle will be long and bloody,” by Joshua Landis

Syria’s Assad regime is doomed, but the battle will be long and bloody
Joshua Landis
For Bitterlemons
January 26, 2012 Edition 4

The Syrian regime headed by Bashar Assad is doomed in the long run, but is likely to last longer than most believe. In December, the leader of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood stated that President Assad would fall “in the next few months”, the US State Department proclaimed Assad to be a “dead man walking”, and Israel’s defense minister insisted that Assad would fall in a matter of weeks. This has turned out to be wishful thinking.

The Assads stand atop the last minoritarian regime in the Levant and thus seem destined to fall in this age of popular revolt. When they do, the post-colonial era will draw to a final close. Following World War II, minorities took control in every Levant state thanks to colonial divide-and-rule tactics and the fragmented national community that bedeviled the states of the region. Unique in this was Palestine, for the Jewish minority was able to transform itself into the majority at the expense of Palestine’s Muslims and Christians. Neither the Christians of Lebanon nor the Sunnis of Iraq were so lucky or ambitious. Nevertheless, both clung to power at the price of dragging their countries into lengthy civil wars. The Alawis of Syria seem determined to repeat this violent plunge to the bottom. It is hard to determine whether this is due to the rapaciousness of a corrupt elite, to the bleak prospects that the Alawi community faces in a post-Assad Syria, or to the weak faith that many in the region place in democracy and power-sharing formulas. Whatever the reason, Syria’s transition away from minority rule is likely to be lengthy and violent. Levantine history suggests this as a rule.

There are three main reasons why the Assad regime is likely to last well into 2013–if not longer–despite Syria’s rapidly deteriorating economic and security conditions.

The first is the strength of the regime compared to the opposition. The military has not turned against Syria’s president. It is a professional army, which so far has a monopoly on heavy weapons in Syria. Important government officials have not defected in significant numbers. This loyalty is due in no small part to the fact that the Assad family has prepared for this moment of popular, Sunni revolt for 40 years. It has packed sensitive posts with loyal Alawis and Baathists. Some analysts estimate that 80 percent of Syria’s officer corps is Alawi. The main strike-forces, such as the Republican Guard led by Bashar’s brother, is Alawi to the man. An ambassador in Syria’s Foreign Ministry recently claimed that 60 percent of Syria’s Foreign Service officers are Alawi and only 10 percent Sunni. The sectarian nature of the elite elements of the security forces ensures a high degree of loyalty and willingness to fight. The broader Alawi community is also likely to remain loyal to the regime, even as the economy deteriorates. Almost all Alawi families have a least one member in the security forces as well as additional members working in civilian ministries, such as education or agriculture. Most fear collective punishment for the sins of the Baathist era, whether this means trials, the loss of jobs, or even worse (one irresponsible Sunni sheikh threatened that the Alawis will be ground into mince meat when defeated).

The second reason the Assad regime is likely to survive into 2013 is the disorganization and factionalism of the opposition. Through much of 2011, the Syrian opposition hoped that by remaining leaderless, as had revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia, the regime could be brought down largely by peaceful means: either because Bashar Assad would surrender power, a coup would dislodge him, sanctions would cause elite defections and collapse, or growing demonstrations would achieve a Tahrir square moment. By the end of 2012, these scenarios seemed ever more unlikely, and the opposition has been forced to think seriously about developing a trusted leadership, unifying its ranks, and coming up with a realistic military option to defeat the Syrian army. These objectives still seem far off

The Syrian National Council, Syria’s leading opposition coalition, remains highly factionalized and has found it difficult to unite with other opposition parties. The mere fact that the SNC membership has felt compelled to limit its leaders to a three-month term testifies to the high level of internal dissent. Burhan Ghalioun, the capable and savvy secular leader, is distrusted by many Islamists in the SNC as well as younger activists who are leading the struggle on Syria’s streets. Only recently was he denounced by members of his own party for being a traitor and dictatorial when he prematurely announce a unification plan with the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, a coalition of leftist parties led by Haytham Manaa.

Just as important as the opposition’s political weaknesses, however, are its military limitations. The Free Syrian Army being assembled in Turkey under the leadership of Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad is no match for the Syrian army. Although armed opponents of the regime are an important development, their size, structural limitations, lack of heavy weapons, and limited command and control mean they do not yet present a real danger or alternative to the Syrian military. In fact, many analysts insist that most fighting is being done by small units organized on the local level that do not take orders from Col. Asaad or other leaders, even if they call themselves members of the Free Syrian Army. What is more, many Syrians still do not accept the notion that the regime should be brought down by military means.

The third reason that the Assad regime is unlikely to be deposed soon is that foreign powers are not eager to intervene militarily in Syria. US President Barack Obama and European authorities would find it difficult not to support military strikes on the Syrian army if they were led by Turkey or the Arab League, but neither has shown an inclination to undertake such a risky adventure.

So long as the Syrian military leadership remains united, the opposition remains fragmented, and foreign powers remain on the sidelines, the Assad regime is likely to survive, but all three of these elements are changing, even if gradually, in the favor of the opposition. The predominant role of minorities in the governments of the region, which was universal at the end of the colonial period, is being brought to a violent conclusion.

-Published 25/1/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org
Joshua Landis is associate professor and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

See the other three essays on Bitterlemons’ site

“The regime’s prospects are better than two months ago but remain dim,” Karim Emile Bitar

The Syrian revolution is now entering a new, more ominous phase. The regime has been considerably weakened and isolated. The Arab League’s mission has ended in a fiasco. The economy is in tatters. The opposition’s protests continue unabated. But the main pillars of President Bashar Assad’s support are still holding on. ….

A militarization of the revolution would empower the most radical elements, as it did in Libya, and render future democratization much more difficult. A foreign intervention would open Pandora’s box.

Those who would like Assad to fall are now confronted with the old Machiavelli vs. Kant philosophical dilemma: does the end justify the means or do the means determine the end? A comprehensive study, published by Columbia University Press and analyzing dozens of past cases, suggests that the latter is true. It indicates that if a dictator is overthrown through peaceful struggle, there is a 51 percent chance of a successful democratic transition after five years. In case of an armed struggle, the chances are only three percent.

The Syrian opposition is understandably impatient to bring Assad down and breathe freely. It should nonetheless meditate on these figures.

“Yes and no,” by Elias Samo

Can the Syrian regime survive? That is a question only a crystal ball can definitively answer. My analysis of the two primary components of the Syrian regime–a pyramidal political leadership under President Bashar Assad and a one-party political structure under the Baath party–leads me to believe the answer is “yes and no”. Yes, Assad will survive, and no, the political structure of one-party Baath rule will not….

“A sinking ship,” by Michel Nehme

Domestically, the mutiny in the Syrian army is slowly accelerating. It is beginning to pose a tangible threat to ! the military establishment, despite tight control by Baathist officers. The economy is gradually deteriorating–an indication of a long process that ultimately will topple the regime. The issue now is not whether the regime has been able to withstand or escape the storm, but rather the sense that the regime is slowly and daily getting weaker. Yet when it will finally collapse is not something that can be predicted, due to a variety of regional and international considerations….

Comments (724)

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701. norman said:

It is hard for me to say this but Hamad is son of bitch..

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January 31st, 2012, 3:27 pm


702. Syrialover said:

I always love the way Mrs Assad gets a free pass with many here because of her age, her appearance and her high fashion wardrobe. There has also been a massive PR campaign inside Syria to build her up as a nice person who helps the poor and children.

There was similar propaganda about Suzanne Mubarak when she was younger. And wait a few years – what happens when she ages and starts to look more like the Tunisian and Libyan first ladies?

The fact she can respresent and promote a dictatorial and violent regime without embarrassment or awkwardness, despite her much-praised western education and upbringing, shows she is not what people fantasise her to be.

While her face is an accident of nature, what’s inside her head will owe a lot to the fact her daddy was a good friend of Assad senior.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:29 pm


703. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Another unchecked rumor from official sources (Sana)

There is democracy and freedom of expression in Syria.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:29 pm


704. SANDRO LOEWE said:


It´s hard for me to say this but Assad is the brother of a criminal.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:32 pm


705. norman said:


You mean Hafiz Assad.I agree ,

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January 31st, 2012, 3:41 pm


706. Mina said:

The Atimes has a real “photoreportage” on the FSA, first of the kind…
Not as fancy as they want their Twitter fans and Revlon to believe and spread.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:44 pm


707. majedkhaldoun said:

Dale Andersen
I would rather go to hell

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January 31st, 2012, 3:46 pm


708. SANDRO LOEWE said:


I meant Hafiz Al Assad is the son of a criminal. Of course Hafiz, the son of Bashar.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:48 pm


709. Juergen said:


when do you get it? Israel is Bashars best hated neighbor, but one who would prefer he stay in power. That would guarantee that he keeps his palestinians on his soil and the Golan would remain part of Israel.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:52 pm


710. norman said:

you mean Refat Assad is a criminal, that is what i agree with.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:52 pm


711. SANDRO LOEWE said:


Do not worry, no need to personalize.
All of them are criminals.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:55 pm


712. Tara said:


Your comment is very funny. Sorry Majed, I am enjoying this.

Btw Dale, I never believed you hate Syria as you have claimed before. May be it is me but as I see something different than the veneer you try to show.

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January 31st, 2012, 3:56 pm


713. Aldendeshe said:

“……It is hard for me to say this but Hamad is son of bitch..”

Why man, because he finally woke up and planned to do something to free people from dictatorship. Help Sunni in Syria get life out of Baathism. I no longer hold any bad feeling for him, now that he turned around on Syria matters. I appreciate the effort he is putting out, even appreciating that Sec. Clinton is out fighting at the U.N. to bring better future for Syrians.

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January 31st, 2012, 4:08 pm


714. Juergen said:

pluralism and contrary opinions arent much loved in Syria

In the pro regime sites they celebrate this real shabiha for fighting, what a message is that sending to the world?

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January 31st, 2012, 4:08 pm


715. Syrialover said:

I am expecting indignant thumbs down from certain commentators here for my comments on Asma Assad in #703.

Fantasies and judgement based on superficial appearances are immature and absurd. And such opinions are silly fairy dust in the face of the devastating reality of what that family has inflicted through gunpower and theft on Syria.

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January 31st, 2012, 4:10 pm


716. Ghat Al Bird said:

A short Russian view of what is happening in Syria:

What Is Really Going On In Syria: Insider Update

by Boris Dolgov

In this article Boris Dolgov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, reports on his recent trip to Syria.

His field investigation is particularly valuable since most of the information about Syria in recent months has emanated from Beirut, Paris or London. Professor Dolgov confirms that, far from a contrived “Arab Spring” scenario, Syria is undeniably grappling with the threat of foreign occupation.

He observes that while the offensive is inordinately violent, the population will not be intimidated. Aware of the disaster wrought by NATO “humanitarian” operations in Yugoslavia and Libya, the Syrians refuse to be drawn into a sectarian ambush.

A process of reform and development is on track, but it will not be dictated from abroad. In Syria, one may object to the president, but not to national sovereignty.

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January 31st, 2012, 4:25 pm


717. jad said:

People on here didn’t get your point.
It’s the first time in SC history that Mr. Norman curse anybody or use a bad word.
I second your opinion about albaghl ibn al….HBJ.

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January 31st, 2012, 6:44 pm


718. Mawal95 said:

Video compilation: Street protesters in Hama, Homs and Daraa chanting slogans specifically saluting by name the Islamist sheikhs Al-Arour and Qardawi. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXbFnH1C66c

Those two well-known sheikhs are Sunnis who have repeatedly expressed a domineering attitude towards Shiites, and even an attitude of hostility towards Shiites. Thus the above videos are evidence of sectarianism in Syria. But as I said several times before on this board, although you can find expressions of sectarianism among some Sunnis in Syria, the type people with that sort of opinion are a disreputable minority without realistic hope of changing the minds of the rest.

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January 31st, 2012, 6:49 pm


719. majedkhaldoun said:

United nation meeting showed that Russia is insisting on the use of veto, and China too, Russia must be betting that the regime in Syria will overcome the crisis.
Mr. Ja3fari was talking a lot of nonsense, about a century ago, or condemning France and Ottoman , he exagerate the death in Libya to 130,000 wjile it was 50,000, that is because the death in Syria is already getting close to that number, there are 10,000 known death,and 30,000 missing presumed to be dead..Mr.Hamad bin Jasem was excellent in his presentation,
I take it there are a lot of behind the seen negotiations, and we will expect a vote no later than friday.

Ann will flood us with articles,
Norman ,we all feel that we need to say something like that, do not worry.

The syrian regime should not feel free to kill his people,and the the people will not get guns to protect themselves, GOD BLESS THE FSA

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January 31st, 2012, 7:01 pm


720. Mawal95 said:

Non-Syrians who consume Western propaganda think the Assad regime is doomed. But real Syrians think otherwise. From HANS above, worth repeating: “It is very hard for the Opposition to win the hearts and the souls of the Syrians after all this killing they have done. It is clear that the army is not targeting the innocent population. That’s the opposite to what the Western propaganda about Syria is.”

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January 31st, 2012, 7:08 pm


721. Juergen said:


You know i have sleepless nights because i do not have Syrian state tv here in my home or Aldunia. Strange enough i do survive. In the morning like right now i listen to Madinah FM, to get my dosis of Bashar wa baas for the day and Honey is doing her best to let you believe all its soo normal in Syria. A bit of Bassem Ferghali and the killing is gone in my head, but then they play the dabkestyle hisbollah march style president love songs and i am back to reality, and its time to change to Fairuz.

Ah by the way enjoy the attention of Hans and Lizzi as long as it lasts

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February 1st, 2012, 1:36 am


722. Mina said:

The US do it best: they spy on you even before you visit!

31 January 2012
Caution on Twitter urged as tourists barred from US

Holidaymakers have been warned to watch their words after two friends were refused entry to the US on security grounds after a tweet. Before his trip, Leigh Van Bryan wrote that he was going to “destroy America”. He insisted he was referring to simply having a good time – but was sent home.

The “social networks” or 1984 going worse.

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February 1st, 2012, 1:39 am


723. Juergen said:

Hillary Clinton: “Syria belongs to its 23 million inhabitants not to one man or his family.”


full video of the meeting of the Security Council

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February 1st, 2012, 3:21 am


724. E’ ancora venerdì : invisiblearabs said:

[…] dei siriani, della popolazione stremata della città martire di Homs, a chi interessa? Questa analisi di Joshua Landis (il suo Syriacomment fa seguito quotidianamente, per tentare di capire qualcosa) […]

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February 10th, 2012, 7:16 am


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