Despite Bashar al-Assad coming out in the middle of January in one of the squares in Damascus amidst his supporters, promising victory, his news agency quoted him last Saturday evening telling the Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs that the events in Syria “aim to divide the country”! What can we understand from that?
Al-Assad’s conversation with the Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs means that he, al-Assad, has just begun to understand that there is a real revolution underway against him, and that those responsible are the revolutionary Syrians, and not “germs” as al-Assad himself used to say. Neither are they the product of a foreign conspiracy, as the Syrian President also used to allege. This revelation did not come as the result of an awakening of the conscience, or a sudden sense of responsibility, but rather it was due to several factors imposed by the reality on the ground. First and foremost, the resilience of the Syrian revolution is now clear and indisputable. Throughout the eleven month period of the al-Assad regime’s ongoing crackdown, the Syrian revolution has continued and remained resilient, whilst al-Assad’s repression has not succeeded in eliminating, or even weakening it.
Furthermore, there is now growing international momentum. This has not been borne out of a sincere global desire to defend the Syrian people, but rather it is something that has been forced upon the international community by the sheer size of the sacrifices made on the ground by the Syrians. Homs, for example, has remained subjected to siege and criminal repression from al-Assad’s forces for nearly fifteen days, and yet it remains resilient, just like other regions of Syria. This is not the whole story, as the Syrians’ bravery is now nearing epic proportions. Here we find the Syrian capital, Damascus, rising up against the Bashar al-Assad regime, and lending its support to the Syrian cities currently oppressed by al-Assad’s criminal forces. This is something we didn’t see even in the Libyan capital Tripoli during the days of the revolution against Gaddafi; Tripoli remained quiet until the moment of reckoning, or at least the moment of collapse. Damascus is not the only city in Syria that is awakening today, there is Aleppo as well, so what is left for al-Assad?
All of the above would make it difficult even for the devil if he decided to stand with al-Assad, let alone Russia and China, who have begun to openly say that their real interests are not with al-Assad, but rather with the Arab world as a whole. With the mobilization of Damascus and Aleppo, it has become difficult for both Russia and China, and they will not be able to stand with al-Assad until the end because now that Syria’s two most important cities have become active, they are subject to heavy losses. Even if Moscow and Beijing decided to stand by al-Assad until the end, alongside Iran, the inevitable loss would impact upon their agents and influence in the region. The current events do not serve the interests of Russia and China, and of course do not serve al-Assad. Information which is now filtering through about the “Friends of the Syrian People Conference” in Tunisia suggests that influential states are moving in earnest to ensure that the meeting is not just a game or a waste of time, and to ensure that it does not provide further opportunities for al-Assad.
Whatever the outcome of the meeting in Tunisia, or the stances of Moscow and Beijing, the reality on the ground, together with the significance of Damascus and Aleppo mobilizing, have now prompted al-Assad to talk about division, or the threat of it, and this means there is no longer any room for procrastination in Syria.
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat. The article was published in the London-based newspaper on Feb. 18, 2012