Rami G Khouri writes: The fast pace of developments in and around Syria in the past week has pushed the country more quickly toward the end of Bashar Assad’s regime, a situation many of us thought was imminent last autumn. He did not fall then for reasons that are evident today. The first is that Assad’s strategy from the start of the uprising against his rule two years ago this month turned out to be that he would, first, bludgeon into submission civilians who demonstrated against him (as his father had done in Hama 30 years earlier). And when that failed he would cede territory to them, but continue to hit their areas hard using air power and missiles. The Syrian government that ruled nationally has disappeared, to be replaced by fortified military bases tightly controlled by Assad loyalists, cousins and desperado fellow Alawites who are prepared to destroy Syria to save themselves.
The second is that this is a losing strategy, because the regime’s circling of its wagons in a few areas makes it more vulnerable than ever to the continued successes of Islamist rebels and the enhanced strengthening of the secular rebels (thanks to aid and training from Arab and foreign powers). As both prongs of the armed opposition advance on the regime’s isolated strongholds, and rockets fall in the center of Damascus, Assad’s constricted bases will panic, and ultimately collapse.
Third is the evident turmoil within the Syrian opposition coalition, coupled with this week’s bomb attack against the head of the Free Syrian Army. Unable to close ranks and work methodically to replace Assad, the weak Syrian opposition continues to flounder, despite considerable domestic and international support. It is worth remembering and repeating: A credible national opposition movement cannot be created and funded by Arab Gulf and Western powers. Rather, it must emanate solely from the legitimacy bestowed by those millions of brave Syrians who continue to fight on the ground inside their country.
Fourth, the opposition’s weaknesses underlie the major developments that now shape the situation: The anti-Assad uprising has turned into an armed conflict; Islamist opposition groups (including many non-Syrian nationals) have earned leading positions in the uprising, due mainly to their military successes; and regional and foreign actors such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States, Jordan and others are increasingly assisting all the armed opposition groups. Consequently, Syria has become the latest front in a regional struggle for control of Arab governments between secular nationalists and pan-Islamists. The Islamists seem to be doing well now, for the reasons mentioned above, but I suspect the secular nationalists will triumph in the end. [Continue reading…]