This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 30/04/2011
With the Syrian demonstrators taking to the streets yesterday in such a dramatic fashion yesterday throughout a number of major cities, despite the severe repression [carried out by the Damascus regime] resulting in the deaths of protestors, the events in Syria have escalated and are now open to a number of different scenarios. Most sources agree on one viewpoint regarding the forthcoming scenario in Syria, and in the following article I will quote what three different sources of different [diplomatic] levels informed of, in this regard.
The prevailing belief, according to sources that have based their opinion upon information from within Syria, is that a genuine struggle for power is taking place in the country. Some believe that the security solution is not viable, and that the government must put forward a package of reform [to the demonstrators]. Whilst others believe that any reform will mean the end of sectarian rule, therefore they believe that repression is the solution. This is what Syrian figures backed by Iran are saying, as well as Iranian experts living in Syria, and this something that one source confirmed to me.
The power in Syria today is focused in the hands of four figures; the president Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad [head of the presidential guard], businessman Rami Makhlouf, and his brother Hafez Makhlouf, who is head of the Syrian security services and of whom a high-ranking source told me, "remember this name!" Therefore, the battle in Syria is taking place between these elite, and there is western concern – which a Washington source confirmed to me – that one of these figures could attempt a coup against the president, throwing themselves in to the arms of Iran in search of support. This is something that would radically change the form and substance of the Syrian leadership, and the US source stressed that Washington concern does not lie in the change of regime, but rather in the manner that this regime change could take place.
Another source informed me that we may see history in Syria repeating itself, for either these elites will turn on al-Assad, giving the [Syrian] leadership a secular or even Sunni dimension, even if temporarily, or one of these well-known figures may fall into Iran's arms searching for support and protection. This is because either the collapse of the Damascus regime would break the back of Iran's foreign policy. In addition to this, it is possible that President Bashar al-Assad could carry out something similar to the "corrective movement" carried out by his father [President Hafez al-Assad] against his brother Rifaat al-Assad and others around three decades ago. The most prominent indication that this is what al-Assad is planning was revealed by American journalist David Ignatius around one month ago in an article published by the Washington Post. In this article, Ignatius quotes unnamed sources in Damascus who reveal that al-Assad is seeking to break the financial strength of Rami Makhlouf. What is also worth mentioning is an article written by Ibrahim Amin, published just a few days ago by the Lebanese pro-Syrian "Al-Akhbar" newspaper, in which he called on al-Assad to take action [against Makhlouf]. He added that "whoever is sending talks to Homs and Daraa must also send a police patrol to arrest Rami Makhlouf and his ilk, confiscating their wealth." Of course, this is rhetoric that nobody in Lebanon would dare use, let alone write!
What is noticeable is that the West – including Washington and Ankara – continue to repeat that they consider al-Assad to be a reformist, and urge him to take [reformative] decisions. One of the sources told me that reform would mean al-Assad carrying out a palace coup [against Makhlouf], before a coup is carried out against him, and the question that must be asked here is: have the events in Syria overcome the entire regime, or will such a palace coup allow the regime to save what can be saved?
Let's wait and see!