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Israeli Syrian Expert: Assad Regime Fighting for Its Life

Mar 28, 2011 – 12:31 PM
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Linda Gradstein

Linda Gradstein Contributor

JERUSALEM -- The name Assad means "lion," and Syrian President Bashar Assad is "fighting for his survival like a wounded lion," according to Moshe Maoz, Israel's premier expert on Syria.

"Assad will try both the carrot and the stick," Maoz told AOL News today. "He will announce some economic and political reforms, and at the same time he will crack down hard on the protests."

Hours later, Maoz's predictions came true. News agencies quoted Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Shara as saying that Assad will announce important decisions that will "please the Syrian people" in the next few days.

Syria President Bashar al-Assad
Remy de la Mauviniere, AP
President Bashar Assad will soon announce important decisions that will "please the Syrian people," Syria's vice president said Monday.
Maoz predicted this will include appointing an opposition member to the ruling government and perhaps even abrogating the emergency regulations that give security forces widespread power to arrest demonstrators.

Protests in Syria continue to spread today. The Associated Press reported that Syrian security forces opened fire on hundreds of demonstrators in the southern city of Daraa, where the protests began two weeks ago. Press reports say at least 55 people have been killed in Daraa alone.

"The protests have tapped into many layers of resentment," Maoz said. "It is religious, social and cultural at the same time."

Bashar Assad is a member of Syria's Alawite minority, some 12 percent of the population. Although Alawites present themselves as Shiites, many of the conservative religious Sunni majority see them as heretics. One scholar even said "Alawites are worse than Jews and Christians," Maoz said.

The Syrian military is composed primarily of Sunni troops commanded by Alawite officers. If the military turns against Assad, he would find it difficult to survive.

The current challenge is the second time the Assad regime, which has been in power for 45 years, has been challenged. In 1982, Bashar Assad's father, Hafez Assad, brutally crushed similar demonstrations in the city of Hama, killing between 17,000 and 40,000 of his own people. Bashar Assad, an ophthalmologist, became president in 2000 after his father died and after his older brother was killed in a race car accident.

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"Assad will fight to the end like Gadhafi," said Maoz, who has written several books about Syria, including an unauthorized biography of Hafez Assad. "The military could decide to get rid of him and then stay in power like in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, which does not like Assad, could also try to step in."

But it is still too early to know if this is the end of the Assad regime, Maoz said. The Syrian intelligence services, the mukhabarat, have infiltrated into every village in Syria. For now, the protests are concentrated in Daraa, a poor area in the south next to Jordan, and Latakia. They have not yet spread to Damascus.

On a side note, Maoz said that several Israeli prime ministers came close to signing a peace deal with Syria that would have returned the Golan Heights to Syrian control. In 2000, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak was on the verge of a deal and at the last minute "he got cold feet," Maoz said. He said a peace deal between Israel and Syria would be a strategic advantage to both countries.
Filed under: World, AOL Original, Arab World Unrest
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