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Assad Is on His Way Out -- But at What Cost?

The Syrian crisis can end only when the current regime leaves. That is a foregone conclusion, as was predicted in this blog from the very beginning of the uprising. The exact circumstances, whether a flight out of the ruling clan, a last stand in the Alawite mountains in northwest Syria, or an assassination of the dictator by somebody from his inner circle are not certain. What is certain is that the entire regime should be out, and the fact that in the twilight period of the dictatorship the human price exacted from the Syrian people is enormous and, tragically, is likely to rise dramatically.

The UN Security Council is considering a resolution that most probably will be vetoed by Russia, according to which Bashar Assad will resign and his powers will be transferred to his deputy. To start with, there are two sitting vice presidents. One is the veteran Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa, who has been a loyalist of the Assad regime for as long as It has been in power. His actual influence is sub-zero, and according to some unverified reports, he dared say something out of line in a consultation with the dictator and some of his Alawite executioners some time ago, only to be silenced at a gun point... The thought that this guy can be the next president is, therefore, part of the theater of the absurd.

Even more so with regard to the second vice president, a lady called Najah Al-Attar. She is a veteran Ba'athi politician, with interesting family connections. Her brother is none other than Issam Al-Attar, the historic leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a sworn enemy of the regime, who has been in exile in Germany for many years. Najah Al-Attar was Minister of Culture under Hafiz Assad and was known to be the politician picked to deliver the long, boring Ba'athi ideological sermons in public. She is a political nonentity and much maligned by the Islamic opposition, exactly because of her family connections.

The idea that somebody from within the regime -- definitely these two hated Assad cronies -- will be the next president, even temporarily, is a non-starter, something that is well known also to the Arab League, and in particular to Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are pushing this stillborn resolution. These countries, as well as the US, France and Britain who back it enthusiastically are all playing for time. They all know that we are witnessing the swan song of the Alawite dictatorship, but they have not figured out as yet what form of transition will take place, and who will lead it.

Formally, the Syrian National Council [SNC], with its military wing, the Free Syria Army, will succeed Assad, but this is far from being a given. The opposition is not yet fully united and is lacking a recognized national leader, one who can assume at least temporarily the presidency and be viewed as a legitimate leader by the masses in the streets. It is not clear what exactly is the dynamic between the civilian opposition and the armed rebels. It is also not clear what will be the attitude of some of the minorities, particularly the numerically strong Kurdish population, towards an interim government which may not be viewed by them as representative of their vested interests.

Clearly, those are questions that need to be resolved, and the fact is that even the most anti-Assad Arab governments, such as Saudi Arabia have not yet extended formal diplomatic recognition to the SNC. This will come at some point in the near future, but the Saudis, ever the cautious diplomats, as well as their Arab allies wish to cover their wings, and after receiving Arab League support for the approach to the Security Council, will be eager to see a majority of the Council members supporting the anti-Assad resolution, even if vetoed by the Russians. Then, and not before, they will formally call for foreign intervention in Syria.

These diplomatic maneuvers may take time, and time is of the essence, so far as the human cost of the uprising is concerned. The desperate moves of the regime claim many more lives than before, and so is the case with self-defense measures taken by the Free Syria Army; henceforth the human tragedy is intensifying by the day and the human cost is shooting up. We will see scenes of violence and atrocities that will dwarf anything that we have witnessed until now, as bad as it is.

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