Even as the president’s troops take control of more of Homs, the Syrian people will go on trying to topple Assad
The fall of Baba Amr, when it happens, will be a serious blow to the morale of protesters throughout Syria and abroad. The Baba Amr district of Homs has come to symbolise the Syrian people’s defiance against the dictator, and if President Bashar al-Assad manages to crush this centre of urban revolt he may feel emboldened to carry on wherever else mass protests threaten his rule.
In fact, Assad’s army has been methodically crushing each urban centre of protest that has emerged over the past year. It began with a ruthless military campaign against the city of Deraa. At the time Syria’s artists and actors still had the self-confidence to organise such efforts as “Milk for Deraa” and to call for an end to the armed campaign.
In those days there was still a naive hope that Assad was a reasonable man who could be appealed to. Of course, those days are long gone and we saw last summer how, during Ramadan, Assad’s forces began shelling the city of Hama for daring to field demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people.
Over the course of an entire month, Hama was subjected to a systematic campaign of brutal repression. The result is we hardly see any demonstrations from that city any more; certainly none that are near the size of the early demonstrations. Rastan, Latakia, and Deir al-Zour, all shared the same fate, each in their own way, but it is Homs that has remained defiant, and it is Homs has been a thorn in Assad’s side throughout the uprising.
Soon, this will no longer be the case. At the time of writing there are reports that more than half the district is now under the control of Assad’s divisions, who are conducting door-to-door searches. It would have been naive to expect that the elements of the Free Syrian Army, and any other local militias, would have been able to hold out against Assad indefinitely, but this is not the end of the revolution.
Assad’s regime is being balanced precariously like a table with wobbly legs. One leg is the security situation, and it is clear that his forces are stretched and unable to impose his will throughout. The second leg is domestic unrest, and again his secret police have been unable to prevent unrest from happening, even in Aleppo and Damascus.
Only two weeks ago a funeral procession in the heart of Damascus escalated into a massive demonstration. This showed that, at the first sign of Assad’s grip weakening, there is a strong chance that we can see similar protests in future.
The third leg is the media, and Assad is also desperately failing on that front. With journalists routinely crossing Syria’s porous borders to report from trouble spots, he cannot impose the kind of media blackout that his father took for granted during the Hama massacre in 1982. The tragic deaths of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik are a poignant reminder of that.
The final leg is international intervention, whether diplomatic or otherwise – and this is the only front where Assad has proved resilient. The backing of Russia and China has thwarted every attempt at the UN security council to condemn his regime, and his regime has powerful domestic allies with Iran and Hezbollah.
Regardless, it appears that a strong consensus is meticulously being built up internationally – which is building pressure upon his regime in a way that no ally could stop for ever. The United States and France are pushing for a security council resolution demanding humanitarian access to areas in Syria, something over which China and Russia would find it difficult to justify a veto.
Ultimately, the Syrian people did not wait for the international community before starting their protests, and they chose to topple the regime knowing full well that a fate similar to that of Hama in 1982 could befall them. It is this determination, more than geopolitical considerations and intrigue, that will topple Assad, whether this year or in 10 years to come.
Assad can keep trying to prop up the individual legs that hold up his regime, but at some point he won’t be able to keep up and then it will all come crumbling down. Whether he ends up in the Hague or a morgue, Assad will have nobody to blame but himself for the fate which befalls him.
from Fares Chamseddine