In a rare speech, Syrian President Bashar Assad stressed his willingness to fight. The bloodshed continues unabated and a political solution is not yet in sight. How much longer can Assad cling to power?
Syrian President Bashar Assad's first speech in seven months was bellicose. The country would only overcome the crisis through comprehensive national mobilization, he called to his followers in Damascus on Sunday (06.01.2013). While Assad pointed to steps for a reconciliation process, he explicitly excluded the armed opposition. Instead, his speech was a rallying call to his followers to hold out.
Ramy Khoury, director of the Foreign Policy Institute at the American University of Beirut, sees no progress in Assad's reform proposals. "These are not serious proposals, as he wants to implement all these reforms under his leadership," Khoury said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
However, this would be totally unacceptable for the Syrian opposition and much of the world community, he said. The situation can therefore probably only be decided militarily: "This is a moment of negative expectations, promising only more warfare and suffering," he said.
Foreign aid for both sides
Opposition activist Hozan Ibrahim, a former member of the Syrian National Council who lives in Germany, said the speech did not indicate any concessions on the part of the regime. He anticipated prolonged fighting: "The Free Syrian Army is trying to reach Damascus, but it is moving slowly and has no real equipment that makes it capable of reaching its destination," he said.
There are no signs of an early end to the violence. Both resistance groups and the Syrian army are reporting individual successes, but cannot seem to win decisive victories.
At the same time, neither side appears to be running out of money to finance the war. The fragmented opposition can count primarily on financial assistance from the Gulf Arab states. Last April, they announced support in the hundreds of millions of euros, among other things.
However, the rebels do not seem to receive enough weapons to bring the regime quickly to its knees. Most of their weapons come from defectors from the Syrian army and captured army depots, explained Günter Meyer, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World in Mainz. The rebels do not receive vast military supplies from abroad, he said. In particular, they lack ground-to-air missiles, with which they could fight the government's control of the airspace. The countries coming to Syria's aid are also careful not to deliver weapons on a large scale, Mayer said, pointing to concerns that these weapons could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists among the fractious rebels.
The government in Damascus also receives support from abroad. Both Russia and Iran provide the regime with money and weapons. Without this outside help, Assad could not last long, Syrian activist Ibrahim said.
The country's economy is in tatters, its infrastructure severely damaged after nearly two years of civil war. Hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, workers and employees are on the run. But it seems that President Assad is able to pay his soldiers. "The deteriorating economic situation doesn't really influence the regime," Khoury said. In contrast, the vast majority of Syrians are suffering from supply shortages.
"In the long term Assad overthrow expected"
Moscow and Tehran are still firmly on the side of Damascus. Neither state has yielded to international pressure for a political solution without Assad. Russia has, however, indicated a cautious willingness to talk.
Khoury believes that should the situation for Assad becomes hopeless, these two allies may switch sides. In the long term, Russia and Iran want to preserve strategic interests in Syria, he said. If this is no longer possible with the current government, Moscow and Tehran could approach the likely new rulers.
The military stalemate is likely to drag on for a while. Even after a number of senior officers defected, the regime has can defy the insurgents for a very long time, Meyer said: "No change is expected, at least not in the medium term, but rather an escalation of the violence and the number of victims," he said, adding that he expects the regime to fall in the long term.
It could also turn out differently, Khoury said. Recalling the Shah of Iran and other deposed dictatorships, he said: "It usually ends very suddenly, when they realize that their secret services cannot keep them in power." He did not want to make any predictions as to when it could happen: "That could happen next week or next year."