Has the Syrian cause been sold?

The idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will remain in power has worried many. It has been commented on recently by the Saudi, Turkish, French and Russian foreign ministers. The Assad regime and its allies are repeating it in the context of suggesting that their rivals have submitted, and that Russian intervention has changed the course of the war. So is Assad really staying?

He governs less than a third of the country, and has a small army and security apparatus. More than 12 million Syrians have been displaced, while 5 million have fled the country. There is nothing left of the elements of a state. Assad stays among tombs as he confronts thousands of rebels. On the practical level, as a ruler he exists only in the statements of his allies Russia and Iran.

Assad is not worth the price being paid by his allies and the Syrian people, and contrary to what he and his supporters think, there is no hope of him staying.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

In addition, it is untrue that Russian intervention in Syria has granted Assad a chance to stay. The Russians are all he has left. He has unsuccessfully used his security forces and thugs. He then resorted to the Lebanese party Hezbollah, which has extensive experience in militia warfare. That also failed. Then the Iranians came to his aid but failed. Assad also resorted to Iraqi and Afghani militias, without achieving progress on the ground.

Assad’s departure

Russia then got involved with its air force and missiles, but the result has been no better. This week, Russian operations focused on Latakia, which until recently was a safe zone for Assad. He is not worth the price being paid by his allies and the Syrian people, and contrary to what he and his supporters think, there is no hope of him staying.

Even the Iranians, who are the most keen to keep Assad in power, are aware of the impossibility of him staying. However, they want to control the course of negotiations and decide the fate of future governance in Syria. They want to assign another Assad, a leader who will follow their orders so they can dominate a strategic geographic area from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and besiege the Gulf.

The Russian stance developed following the visit of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as Moscow began to talk about negotiating to establish a transitional phase. It is expected that there will be disputes over many details, such as the composition of the transitional government, the roles of the military and security institutions, and when Assad will depart.

It is impossible for him to resume as a legitimate president. The Syrian cause has not been sold, and it is not fit to be sold.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 21, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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