Defections have reached the highest levels of the Syrian government. Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a confidante of President Bashar al-Assad, fled to Paris and offered to lead the rebels. Syria’s ambassador to Iraq crossed into Iraq’s Kurdistan region, videotaped his defection for Al Jazeera TV and appealed to “all Syrians to unite” and turn their weapons against the regime. And, most recently, Syria’s charge d’affaires in London left his post to protest the Assad government’s “violent and oppressive” actions.
Joshua Landis, the director of the Middle East Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma, author of the respected Syria Comment blog and a leading U.S. expert on Syria, says the future of Syria’s revolution and the end of the 42-year rule by the Assad family will depend on further high-level defections from the government. Below are highlights from Landis’ recent interview with Middle East Voices on the defections. Listen to the sound file at the end of the text for more of his interview.
Sunni defections have turned the war into a sectarian struggle
“This is the beginning. We haven’t seen major defections among the foreign service or any of the other ministries and everybody’s been waiting to see upper-level Sunni defections, or any regime defections… Obviously the opposition would like to see Alawite defections. But for the time being, it looks like we’re getting high-level Sunni defections. And 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 and the pressure on Sunnis to leave the regime, to abandon it, is intense.”
This regime is beginning to come undone
“Everybody has been expecting this sort of thing. The big question has been how come it hasn’t come sooner in many ways? Right at the beginning of the uprising, many opponents of the regime thought that regime would come crashing down in one month or two months or three… That hasn’t happened in large part because Sunni elite figures have not abandoned the regime and it’s only today that we are beginning to see that now they’re running for the exits. That will hasten the fall of this regime. This regime depends upon her alliances. The foundation is known as an alliance between Alawites and Sunnis. That alliance is beginning to come undone.”
Assad is not just sitting on his hands
“We don’t know how long this is going to be. The Alawites are 12 percent of Syria. There are almost three million of them. The government has been responding to these defections by cycling in more and more Alawites into the military and pushing the Sunnis to the side. So, it’s not just sitting there with its hands in its pockets. It’s trying to rejuvenate the military. This is what the shabiha is all about, these irregular Alawite troops. It’s preparing itself for a fight, even if the Sunnis begin to defect. That’s the scary part of this thing.”
Listen to more of Joshua Landis’ insights on the situation in Syria (4:30):
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.