Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Steadily more cracks in the Syrian regime

Riyad Hijab sworn in June 2012.
Yesterday the defection of the Syrian prime minister Riyad Hijab was big news. The minister escaped to Jordan with members of his family and is said to be on his way to Qatar, one of the countries that supply the opposition with weapons. The Syrian government hastily announced that Hijab, who had been installed only two months earlier (seen here on the photo)  had been fired and therefor fled, but the truth is different. An escape like that is not executed in a wink but has to be prepared carefully in advance. Hijab's spokesman Moahmmed Otari confirmed that the minister, who beforehand was minister of Agriculture (and before that governor of Lattakia and Quneitra provinces respectively) planned it a long time in advance., He also said that Hijab was put under pressure by Assad to accept the post. "The criminal Assad pressed him to become a prime minister and left him no choice but to accept the position. He had told him: 'You either accept the position or get killed,'" Otari told press Agency AP.
Shawkat and Bashar at the funeral of Hafez al-Assad in 2000.
The defection is without question a blow to Assad, as Hijab belongs to the Sunni majority and was a high cadre in the Baath party. But the importance should not be overestimated. He did not belong to Assad's inner circle and prime ministers in most Arab countries, and certainly in the Syrian constellation, are in fact no more than high placed functionaries who run the day to day business of the country. (Interestingly  Robert Fisk, the veteran correspondent of the Independent, tries to make us believe otherwise. He tells us that Hijab was a cousin of Farouq al-Shara, the vice-president. But he also tells us that Hijab was born in the governorate of Deraa, while in fact he was a native of Deir ez-Zor. So probably Fisk stayed true to his reputation as a journalists with a most lively phantasy).
In fact the defection of general Manaf Tlass, some weeks ago, and the killing of some four leaders of the security apparatus, including the minister of Defense and Assads brother in law Assef Shawkat on 18 July were far more severe blows to the regime.  Particularly the loss of Shawkat, who has always been close to Bashar and who was part of the small circle of people who decided about the ways to suppress the uprising in the country, was a big loss for Bashar.
Apart from that the the regime should also be concerned about the number of refugees and the defections from the army. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that  more than 1,300 refugees fled to Turkey to escape escalating violence in Syria overnight, among them a brigadier-general and another 11 military officers. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is now 47,500 people, at the end of July it amounted to 44,000. Large numbers fled also to Jordan and Iraq. Opposition sources say at least 18,000 people have been killed since the revolt began in March 2011.

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