Syria is shaping up to be ground zero in major showdown between the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian-backed Shiite government of Bashar al-Assad. Over the last several days, the specter of Assad’s removal has carried an air of inevitability to it. A significant blow was dealt to Assad when Hamas publicly aligned with the Sunni rebels; this further alienated an already very alienated Syrian leader. Today, it was reported that Hamas leaders have officially pulled out of that country; the battle lines are being drawn quite quickly.
As for the inevitability of Assad’s fall… not so fast.
Reuters is reporting that the Assad family has, for many years, anticipated a Sunni uprising and have invested substantial resources in preparing for it. Oh, there also doesn’t seem to be any clear cut replacement to take power when / if Assad falls.
The Obama administration along with its Arab and European allies are trying to push Syria’s leader from power, but U.S. officials acknowledge they see no good candidates to replace him, either inside the government or from the nation’s fractured opposition.
That is due in no small part, the officials and experts on Syria said, to President Bashar al-Assad’s determination to “coup proof” his rule to ensure no challenge emerged from within.
With the Assad family facing the greatest challenge to its 41-year rule, Syrian security forces killing thousands of protesters and bystanders, and U.S. officials predicting the government will eventually fall, the question of who rules Syria has taken on added urgency.
But there is, in short, no heir apparent. And it is unclear if one will emerge anytime soon.
“The ruling establishment there is so entrenched and it is so self-interested, even if, and this is purely speculative, even if they overthrew Assad, it’s not clear that we would like his successor much more,” said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There is no heir apparent.”
Similarly, among the rebels, “there is no opposition figure who has come out and become the face of Syrian resistance,” the official said.
As for how the Assad regime intends to keep power…
The Assads and many other power-brokers in Damascus are from the minority Alawite sect that makes up just 12 percent of the Syrian population. Their fortunes are tied to the president’s.
There is also family history. The Syrian leader’s late father, Hafez al-Assad, seized power as a result of a bloodless coup in 1970 and became the unquestioned ruler the following year.
“The Assads have been planning for this for 40 years, for a Sunni uprising against them. And that’s why they’ve poured family members and sectarian members into the top upper ranks. It’s all about loyalty to coup-proof this regime,” said Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who writes a newsletter on Syrian politics.
When the younger Assad took office, he kept the grip of power within the family, with his brother Maher commanding the Republican Guard and his brother-in-law a leader of the armed forces.
What all of this means is that the overthrow of Assad could be much more difficult than anyone is expecting. Unlike the North African countries, Syria is a prized piece of territory for the Iranians and the Muslim Brotherhood. Neither side is going to give it up easily at this point. Sitting in the middle of it is a regime that appears to have spent decades preparing for a situation like this.
For decades, the Assads worried about an uprising led by Syria’s majority Sunni Muslims, who make up about 74 percent of the population – like that now underway.
They built a security apparatus that included a “Mukhabarat culture” of secret police and public fear to control the population. “Mukhabarat” is the Arabic word for an intelligence agency.
It would be difficult to mount a coup because the Assads engineered a system in which intelligence agencies have overlapping functions, said Murhaf Jouejati, a National Defense University professor and member of the opposition Syrian National Council. “So if there is the movement of any units of the Army they would all become aware of it.”
The top tier is not immune from scrutiny by their peers. “Even these people are watched over by different intelligence agencies. So it really is difficult to mount a coup, although one can never say it is impossible,” Jouejati said.
Regular readers to this blog know that we believe the best possible solution in Syaria – based on two very bad options – is that Assad remains in power, not because we support him but because there needs to be a counter-balance between the increasingly powerful Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. If the Brotherhood takes Syria, it gains a huge advantage in the region, which would not be good.
h/t Hot Air