News / Middle East

    Syria High-level Defections Reveal Assad Weakness

    Nawaf Fares, left, is sworn in as Syria's ambassador to Iraq before President Bashar al-Assad, right, and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in Damascus, September 16, 2008.
    Nawaf Fares, left, is sworn in as Syria's ambassador to Iraq before President Bashar al-Assad, right, and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in Damascus, September 16, 2008.
    David Arnold
    The defection of Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, could be the beginning of large-scale defections by high government officials from the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to regional experts.

    Defections of rank-and-file military, mostly Sunnis, have increased as levels of government brutality grew during months of public protest against 42-year Assad family dictatorship. The Fares defection last week is the second among the Sunni elite in the Assad administration. The ambassador’s announcement was broadcast on Al-Jazeera a week after the defection of Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a Republican Guard commander and the highest-ranking military officer in the regime to turn against Assad.

    The ambassador who turned against his president

    In announcing his defection, the ambassador resigned from the government’s ruling Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party, called on “all Syrian people to unite” and invited members of the military to “turn your guns towards the criminals from this regime.”

    "I declare that I have joined, from this moment, the ranks of the revolution of the Syrian people, which is my natural place during these hard times and circumstances,” Fares said in the pre-recorded statement while seated in front of a photograph of the flag of the Syrian revolution.

    Fares began his political career as secretary of the Ba'ath Party in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria and was appointed ambassador to Iraq in 2008, after serving the Assad administration as governor of the Lattakia, Idlib and Quneitra governates. He is a tribal leader of the al-Dameem clan in the Jazira region of northeastern Syria, southern Turkey and northern Iraq. The Syrian Arab News Association released a statement on Thursday in which a clan spokesman in Deir Ezzor issued a disavowal of Fares’s decision.

    Will more Sunnis abandon the Assad regime?

    The defections by Tlass and Fares are seen by some regional experts as the catalyst for more high-level Sunnis abandoning Assad and his Alawite leadership.  Further Sunni defections could weaken the government and reveal a growing sectarian divide in the country, the experts say.
    We are beginning to see that now they’re running for the exits,” said Landis. “That alliance is beginning to come undone.

    Assad is a member of the Alawite sect of Islam and has surrounded himself with other Alawite officials, but has depended on Sunnis for much of his support. Sunnis make up approximately 70 percent of the population, and Alawites are about 12 percent.

    “This regime depends on an alliance between Alawites and Sunnis,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Middle East Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma. The departure of two prominent Sunnis may trigger a cascade of Sunni defections, he said.

    “We are beginning to see that now they’re running for the exits,” said Landis. “That alliance is beginning to come undone.”

    “If that begins to cascade, it will leave the Alawites completely naked and this is another indication that the struggle in Syria is turning into a sectarian struggle.”

    How defectors now threaten Assad

    Some experts have predicted that despite global condemnation, Assad’s government could last at least another year. Landis said large-scale defections of elite such as Tlass and Fares could shorten Assad’s survival.

    Both high-profile declarations follow months of defections from the military, mostly among conscripts and lower-ranking officers, largely Sunnis. During the army’s assaults on neighborhoods known to be sympathetic to the rebels, hundreds of military conscripts and officers have refused to fire on Syrian civilians.

    Many soldiers have abandoned their posts, held their government identification cards up on YouTube videos and joined the rebel’s Free Syrian Army. They have turned into a significant part of the revolutionary forces that protected demonstrators in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Aleppo and, more recently, Damascus. 

    The Free Syrian Army has grown into several battalions operating independently of one another.  Collectively, they now control several regions of the country.

    It is clear that the ability of the regime to control things is waning...
    The Tlass defection had special importance because the general, whose father had served as minister of defense to the president’s father, Hafez al-Assad, was “very close to Bashar and it was much more harmful to the regime,” said Landis. The Tlass departure, however, was less public than Fares’s departure.

    The Fares defection that followed “is symbolic of upper-level defections that could become very frequent and very devastating for the government,” Landis said.

    Defections increase as rebels gain territory

    “The timing is what’s important,” said Randa Slim, a research fellow at the New American Foundation and a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.

    Speaking from Istanbul, Slim said recent interviews with military defectors indicated they were reluctant to join the revolution because the regime would punish their families.

    Now, Slim said, “They see their relatives back home may not be punished” because Assad does not have control over some areas of the country. 

    “It is clear that the ability of the regime to control things is waning, and the ability to enforce punishment on defectors is waning.” she said. “People are becoming bolder in seeking a way out.”

    Bureaucrats, shopkeepers and students stay home

    International media have focused on the public defections from the military, but Slim said worker strikes in Damascus and in other cities in recent months have encouraged far higher numbers of what she calls silent defections.
    The balance of power is changing... the opposition is getting stronger.

    “These are government employees who are not going to work, citizens who are not paying taxes, shops are closed, students who are striking,” said Slim.

    There is definitely a momemtm building up inside Syria … that seems to suggest people still working for the regime think that the regime’s days are numbered.”

    Sunni commercial interests historically supported the Assad government, but Slim said “even among business elite, people who in the past stood in support of the regime now believe the status quo is no longer attainable.”

    “The balance of power is changing,” said Landis. “We’re seeing month by month the opposition is getting stronger and stronger and getting better weapons and it’s getting better command and control.”

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Plain Mirror from: Abidjan
    July 17, 2012 4:15 AM
    Right from the days of Julius Ceaser down to the days of even Jesus Christ of the Christain faith, it is obvious that security is a mare superstition well given definition by my friend Helen Keler. It is also not a surprise that these coward defectors would come up to say all sorts of non-sense in order to get favour from the rebels. Reason within yourself, these defectors all knew that Assad was not good for the country, yet none of them made the sacrifice to kill Assad since even if it would cost them their lives or freedom. They have been dining with Assad, yet they could not waste him. They have been enjoying Syria wealth with him and putting policies that govern Syria untill now, at the eleventh hour, Assad has been denied. The world of hipocricy. Syria rebels, be wise!!

    by: JR from: BR
    July 16, 2012 4:47 PM
    As we could see in the report, the Syria's story will not be different of Lybia was. After a huge bloodshed Assad wil be dead in bad conditions. And this will only be the begining for him. God or Alah awaits quite quiet for the slayer dictator.

    by: Kafantaris from: USA
    July 16, 2012 4:19 PM
    Surprise, surprise.
    Russia again says that the U.N. should not boot out Assad from Syria.
    And again we are shocked, dismayed and disappointed.
    Why?
    Russia and China have their own reasons not to lift a finger in Syria -- but we are not waiting for them anymore.
    Rather, we will join other countries willing help to take care of the necessary business in Syria -- just as we had done in Libya.
    This time around, Russia and China had their chance to be part of the solution. Over and over, they have refused -- less they ultimately rattle their own house of cards.
    Fine.
    But their inaction has committed them to getting out of the way. They can do so and save face, or that they can continue to be obstreperous and lose more face.
    Either way, we are moving forward without them.
    As for Lavrov’s claim that the West is blackmailing Russia, most countries see it the other way around.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.