Robert Fisk: Assad faces his people's hatred – but as their anger grows, his excuses are still just the same

 

Share
Related Topics

It was the Assad Speech of the Year. There was an international conspiracy against Syria. True. Arab states opposed to Syria were under "outside pressure". True, up to a point. Nobody could deny the seriousness of these plots. True. After all, the Syrian government itself registers 2,000 dead soldiers, while the UN estimates civilian dead at 5,000. And when Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan warned that the violence in Syria was "heading towards a sectarian, religious war", there were few supporters of President Assad who would disagree with him.

As for foreign plots, who doubts that weapons are pouring into Syria from Assad's enemies in Lebanon? Syria's Defence Minister, Fayez Ghosn, has stated that al-Qa'ida had infiltrated the northern Lebanese town of Arsal – a dodgy claim since the only death there appears to have been caused by Syrian troops. The Lebanese Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, still nominally an Assad ally, suggested officials should not use such all-encompassing words that mean anything to anyone. True again. Jumblatt said the recent explosions in Damascus that killed at least 25 Syrians raised "many questions" – because they coincided with the Arab League monitors' visit.

So far, then, so good. Assad also promised a referendum on the constitution around March and elections mid-year. The problem, of course, is two-fold. Although President Assad was giving his first public address in six months, it contained little new. The foreign plotters, the Arab states under foreign pressure, the threat to hit the regime's armed enemies with "an iron fist", are statements that we have all heard before.

What has changed, however, is the extent and speed of the deterioration in Syria, an ever more blood-curdling battle in which Assad's opponents are ever more heavily armed and readier to assault the regime's forces. The "Free Syria Army" or the "Free Army" is steadily growing in size, although it will not be taken seriously by its armourers unless whole Syrian military units defect.

Assad's government, however, has still found itself unable to deal with the news side of the crisis. By allowing few international journalists to enter the country, officials have allowed the stunning YouTube images of the opposition to lead public opinion. When Al Jazeera can broadcast a Muslim imam in a crowded mosque shouting "Assad's soldiers – God curse them – say Assad is their God; if that doesn't make you angry, what will?" and then give specific details of protesters' demonstration tactics in a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian Ministry of Information has a real problem.

The President can say – as he did yesterday – that "according to the law, nobody should open fire – only in self-defence or in a battle with an armed person", but dozens of YouTube phone videos on Al Jazeera suggest that such laws are widely ignored by the regime.

Of course, Al Jazeera is funded by the Emir of Qatar, and the Qatari royal family's influence has now reached its zenith in the Arab League – which has threatened to allow the whole bloody business to go to the UN Security Council. It's not difficult to see how – from a sparse Baathist drawing room – this looks more like conspiracy than coincidence. The League has been boasting of its sense of resolution, while Assad believes it was his idea to bring the League's monitors to Syria. And that's exactly what he told us all yesterday. The Kuwaitis, meanwhile, said that two of their League military monitors in Syria had been slightly wounded by "unidentified protesters". It would be interesting to know whom the protesters were protesting against.

Mission to Syria: Arab League unease

22 December Arab League delegates start arriving in Syria to monitor a plan calling for the withdrawal of troops from cities.

23 December Syria suffers its first suicide bombing since unrest began in February. Forty people are killed, but activists are suspicious of the timing.

27 December Foreign Policy magazine labels the mission's Sudanese head, Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi, the world's worst human rights observer because of links to abuses in Sudan.

28 December General Dabi says the situation in parts of Syria is "reassuring". The next day, 25 people are shot dead by security forces.

1 January A body advising the Arab League says it should pull monitors out.

5 January Qatar's Prime Minister admits Arab League monitors made "mistakes".

6 January Another bomb explodes at a busy intersection killing 26 people, with state media blaming "terrorists".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test