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Bashar al-Assad in state of desperation

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The signs are clear: Bashar al-Assad is in a state of desperation, and his latest speech in front of Syrian parliament proves it: having played most of the cards at his disposal in attempting to crush the Syrian uprising (including the murder of peaceful protesters), he is now playing his final card, the "patriotism" card, by now insisting that the turmoil taking place in Syria is the result of a "foreign conspiracy." He has promised that he will resort to an "iron-first" approach to deal with the "terrorists" (i.e. peaceful protesters). He reiterated his promise during a surprise appearance in front of a crowd of supporters the following day. If anything, this ad hominem attack shows how truly bankrupt his regime has become, to be so completely unable to offer any meaningful solutions to a nation that so badly wants freedom and political change.

It is rather astonishing that at no point, not even once, has Mr. Assad accepted a share of the blame, either personally or for his regime. To blame the current unrest on foreign conspirators is absurd, to say the least. Although I am certain that there have always been few governments interested in bringing instability to Syria, there is nothing unusual about this in the game of politics played between sovereign states (one example is Syria's attempt to destabilize Lebanon since the withdrawal of its troops from that country!). But the unrest we see in Syria is from the people of Syria who risk, and frequently lose, their lives in peaceful protests against Assad's regime.

The best way for any government to protect against foreign plots is first and foremost to be legitimate, i.e. one that is elected by popular will, and one that treats its citizens with respect and dignity. None of this applies to Syria: Mr. Assad inherited the presidency from his father like it was property, despite his personal fantasy that he was elected by the majority of Syrians. As far as the authenticity of the brutality of the regime, you only to have watch a few of the thousands of YouTube video clips available online to realize that Assad's promised "Iron Fist" has been in use from the very beginning. In fact, the abuse and torture that Syrians are undergoing openly right now have been happening for decades, albeit in relative secrecy, mostly confined to prisons and detention centres.

The timing and place of the latest two suicide bombings in Damascus suggest that these bombings may have been carried out by the regime in order to sway domestic and international public opinion (again showing how desperate the regime has become.) There are three points worth mentioning which validate this suggestion. First, the first blast happened a day before the Arab League delegation was to arrive in Syria. Second, the second explosion took place in Midan, the only Damascus-centre neighbourhood where anti-government protests have taken place. Third, Al-Qaeda which was blamed by the regime has not attributed the attack to itself as is usually the case. This raises doubts regarding the regime's claim that these suicide bombings were carried out by terrorists.

The question that many people have on their minds about Syria is: what's next? The answer is in front of our eyes: Syria has already descended into civil war. Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), mostly Sunnis, have witnessed their brethren being slaughtered by a regime that is mostly controlled by Alawites. While still small in number and lacking the necessary heavy weaponry to take on the regime face-to-face, there are signs that this is changing. The FSA is gaining strength and has recently carried out retaliatory attacks that targeted the Shabiha (a pro-Assad criminal gang that is responsible for murdering protesters) and soldiers who were mandated by Assad's regime to crush the uprising. The FSA has stated that its mandate is only to protect peaceful protesters, and that their operations are only carried out in self-defence. This past Friday, thousands of Syrians across the country have descended to the streets to voice their support for the FSA, as it is becoming increasingly clear that their hope in the international community to put a stop to the killings has faded.

Since the arrival of the Arab League monitoring team in Syria two weeks ago, the level of violence against civilians has actually increased as confirmed by many observers. This gave the regime the necessary cover to continue to implement its campaign of terror and violence against its own citizens. The Arab League mission has clearly been a complete failure, and it is equally clear that the only way to stop the escalating violence in Syria is for the United Nations to intervene, not eventually, but immediately. The UN mandate to do so is clear, under its Responsibility to Protect resolution. Every day that passes results in an escalation of violence and more innocent lives lost. Waiting is not an option.

This article was first published in Prism and a part of it appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

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