from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Noose Tightens on the Assad Regime

November 14, 2011

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The demise of the Assad regime in Syria is inevitable, as the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said recently.

The first Arab leader to call upon Assad to step down is King Abdullah of Jordan, who today said "If Bashar had an interest in his country he would step down….If I were in his shoes, I would step down…." Given the history of close Syrian-Jordanian relations and the king’s customary restraint, this is a remarkable statement. The swing of Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt against Assad is another clue that the regime’s fall is coming. Jumblatt said in late October that  “the Syrian people are revolting against oppression and tyranny,” and he is a man with his finger perpetually up to measure how the wind is blowing.

Worse yet for Assad was the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria, which not only isolates Assad but pushes the EU further in the direction of anti-regime actions. And today the EU sanctioned more regime insiders, only one step in a series certain to come.

Assad is losing his composure. We see this not so much in his continued killing of unarmed protesters—for that has been a hallmark of the regime, under Bashar al-Assad as under his father—as in Saturday night’s assaults on the Saudi, Qatari, French, and Turkish embassies and consulates. Those attacks, which absolutely no one will believe were spontaneous, reveal a regime that is fast losing its grip not only on Syria but on reality. Attacking those Arab and Turkish missions was of course against international law but it was more importantly very stupid, as it is bound to offend even more the few governments that could possibly offer Assad a lifeline. It will now persuade them that the sooner he goes the better, and they have various means to implement such a decision—including providing money and weapons to the Syrian opposition, reaching out to the Syrian business community to turn it against Assad, and contacting Syrian military leaders to tell them the regime is finished and they should get on the winning side.

So the Assad regime is finished. The collapse is likely to come more quickly than was thought just a few weeks ago, when many experts said he might hold on for another year. It is not at all clear he can hold on for another month.

The sooner he goes the better, for the Assad family has given Syria a vicious, indeed murderous, kleptocracy for decades. And one can hope that the setback his fall will be for Hezbollah and Iran will over time positively affect Lebanese and Iranian politics as well. One need not romanticize the coming period in Syria, which has never had experience with democracy and has many social divisions, to applaud the departure of the Assads and their cronies.