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World

Assad's all-or-nothing fight

Syria's President Bashar Assad is talking about a final battle instead of fleeing into safe exile. He is most likely sealing his own fate.

Since the July 18 attack that killed several of his key aides, Syrian President Bashar Assad has disappeared from public view. He's on TV at the swearing-in of new ministers, he's quoted with statements condemning the rebels. Other than that there's only silence. Instead of addressing his people, he lets the guns do the talking. In the country's two most important cities, Damascus and Aleppo, both the regime and the rebels are talking of the "final battle."

And this is Bashar Assad, of all people. The man who never wanted to become president in the first place. The man who only took over from his father because his older brother Basel died in a 1994 car crash. Bashar studied to become an eye doctor and was interested in computers. Now it is he who is determined to stay in power, whatever the cost - even if it means killing his own people.

Violence instead of dialogue

Damaged houses in Damascus (Reuters)

An end to the violence in Syria is getting less and less likely

Yet out of all Arab authoritarian rulers, Assad was in the best position. While the anger of Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans was clearly directed at their leaders, Syrians demanded freedom, democracy and an end to corruption. But instead of seeking dialogue with the demonstrators, Assad decided to let his army shoot at them - and started the armed conflict that's still going on.

For months, the opposition was ready to talk with the regime about a democratic transition. Their only demand was that the violence against the protesters had to stop. But over the last eighteen months, Assad never really stopped the killing to give negotiations a chance. He went down another path: a fight for all or nothing. It's a risky game; after all, the 46-year-old has a family, and his life is still ahead of him. He knows that many Syrians will not rest until he pays for his crimes - either in prison or with a public execution.

His support among the people is dwindling by the day. The pro-Assad demonstrations in recent months are nothing like they still used to be in the summer of 2011. It's getting more and more difficult to mobilize the public and even staying at home instead of joining the pro-Assad demonstration has a political aspect to it. Many people might still be too frightened to protest against the regime but at least they won't be forced into demonstrating in favor of it.

Most people who for years had been waiting for improvements under Assad were already disappointed before the revolution started. They are the neglected rural population, the impoverished suburban class, the university students without job prospects, the countless unemployed young people. And since the beginning of the protests, even the businessmen and public servants who fared comparatively well under the Assad regime are beginning to turn away from Bashar.

A life-and-death struggle

Syria's former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab (Reuters)

Syria's former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected to Jordan

Assad still manages to survive, partly because he's not alone. A close circle of largely Alawite officers and secret service generals as well as his extended family are bound to stick with him to the bitter end. Their fate is tied to the regime as they supported the killing in recent months. It's this core of the regime who are fighting for their lives no matter what the price.

But since the July 18 attack, Assad himself has become vulnerable. The armed opposition seems to have supporters in the highest circles around the president and will do anything to get the hated strongman out of the way. This will have a psychological effect on Assad: Where does he still feel safe? Whom can he still trust?

The fighting in Damascus and Aleppo shows that the conflict is getting ever bloodier. The economic situation at in the country is getting worse, while more and more members of the security apparatus and the administration are jumping ship. Politicians, ambassadors and members of the military who have switched sides all paint a picture of an ailing regime frantically punching left and right as it knows that its time is up. The question is how long it still can hold out.

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