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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid