Assad's Conundrum: Referendum Plus Repression Equals Reform?
Is military repression Bashar Al-Assad's only game card?
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's unrelenting military offensive against rebel-held areas suggests that his regime is basing its survival on repression rather than reform, despite his promise of a referendum next week on a new constitution that could reshape domestic politics, say analysts.
"Al Assad has nowhere to go but forward, the military solution is his only option," says Bilal Saab, a Middle East security expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. "He may not survive at the end of the day, but he is surely not going down without a fight."
"[Al Assad] believes he has Russian backing for what the regime calls the ‘security solution' alongside a series of procedural changes to the constitution that he wants people to buy onto as reform," says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. On Thursday, the European parliament passed a resolution urging member states to close their embassies in Damascus and to launch talks on setting up humanitarian corridors along Syria's borders.
With a Libya-style military intervention ruled out by the US and Europe, the notion of setting up humanitarian corridors is seen as a half-way step: It theoretically would allow aid to reach desperate Syrian civilians but falls short of a full military intervention.
‘Friends of Syria'
The devil, however, lies in the details. The Al Assad regime would probably reject the establishment of one or more humanitarian corridors on Syrian territory, claiming they breach national sovereignty. That would require external armed support to protect the enclave from potential attack by the Syrian army, leading inadvertently to a military intervention, analysts and diplomats say.
Meanwhile, the international community is pinning hopes for fresh ideas on a ‘Friends of Syria' meeting on February 24 hosted by Tunisia. The meeting will bring together disparate opposition groups and individuals, Arab states, Turkey, the European Union, and the US.
By Nicholas Blanford