First Published: 2014-07-15

Assad seeks to win over war-weary Syrians
Syrian President will play role of 'victor' at inauguration as question of his ouster is no longer on the cards.
Middle East Online

By Rana MOUSSAOUI - BEIRUT

Assad will also try to convince the West his regime is a bulwark against the extremist Islamic State

President Bashar al-Assad on his inauguration on Thursday is expected to play the role of "victor" while trying to win over war-weary Syrians and those fearful of jihadist advances.

Analysts say Assad, who was swept back to power in a June 3 election slammed as a "farce" by the opposition, will also try to convince the West his regime is a bulwark against the extremist Islamic State (IS) which is sowing terror in Syria and Iraq.

"Assad wants to consolidate his image as the victor" in the regime's bid to crush a three-year rebellion, said Khattar Abou Diab, Paris-Sud University professor of international relations.

The inauguration "will be a show of defiance against countries that demanded his ouster" ever since the outbreak of a popular revolt in March 2011, Abou Diab said.

Three years on, according to Bassam Abu Abdallah, an expert close to the regime in Damascus, the question of Assad's ouster is "no longer on the cards".

Abu Abdallah, who directs the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies, said: "Even the Americans, the Saudis and the Qataris (who back the revolt) are no longer calling for that."

- 'Semblance of legitimacy' -

A veteran opposition figure and member of the exiled National Coalition, Samir Nashar, said: "Bashar al-Assad continues to claim he is a legitimate president despite the victims and the massacres ... He is holding on to a semblance of legitimacy.

"His message is clear: he will not leave power at any price."

For the past year, the anti-Assad rebellion has suffered a string of defeats on the battlefield.

Opposition fighters lost control of bastions in the heart of Homs city, Damascus province and east of Aleppo city in the north.

Regime troops have made advances around Aleppo in recent weeks, pressing a bid to besiege the rebels.

The regime controls most of the coast, though the rebels have the upper hand in Idlib in northwest Syria and Daraa in the south, dubbed the "cradle of the revolution" that later morphed into a civil war.

The mainstream rebels, however, have also faced defeats in eastern Syria, from where they have been expelled by IS, which last month proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq.

Damascus, meanwhile, has been heavily reliant on a steady flow of fighters from Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah and the unwavering support of allies Iran and Russia.

The rebels, in contrast, say they have received practically no military aid from the West.

- 'Pyrrhic victory' -

Assad, said Brookings Doha Center director Salman Shaikh, "has the momentum now".

Shaikh, meanwhile, said that Assad will use his inauguration for a new seven-year term to try to win over those who neither support his regime nor back the rebels.

He will try, said Shaikh, to "cosmetically... reach out... in order to win over those in the grey area."

But, said the analyst, "the regime is still a war cabinet... and the rebels will continue to fight" Assad's troops.

Karim Bitar, director of the Paris-based International and Strategic Relations Institute, said Assad will capitalise on fears of the jihadists while pursuing his own offensive against the rebels.

"He hopes the IS abuses will help him win over a population exhausted by three years of war," Bitar said.

Assad will "continue to take advantage of the West's obsession with Islamism and try to portray himself as a partner in the fight against IS."

At the same time, he will "press his counter-insurgency plan, which aims to take over major highways and big cities, while abandoning... the east of the country."

But analysts say Assad faces an uphill task on the political front.

"Too much blood has been spilled... Regardless of the military successes, (Assad) will never be able to restore his legitimacy in the eyes of much of the population," said Bitar.

"So what we're really talking about is a Pyrrhic victory, won on the ruins of a country that will not accept the return of the status quo ante."

 

Iraq forces press Mosul offensive

Tunisian public health sector struggles to heal itself

Morocco fugitive protest leader arrested

Mattis: Civilian deaths a 'fact of life' in war on IS

Syria girls escape war with Snow White

Israel interior minister questioned on graft suspicions

Tunisia security forces kill IS fugitive

Egypt’s left-wing parties start searching for Sisi competitor

Political scandal grips new Algerian government

Jordan gearing up for another Ramadan with refugees

Egypt’s left-wing parties start searching for Sisi competitor

US urged to keep track of its Iraq arms supply

Images emerge of Manchester bomber as runners defy threat

Qatar risks US sanctions over support for Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood

Libya jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia announces dissolution

Iran leader launches fierce attack on ‘milking cow’ Saudis

US-Turkish relations go from bad to worse

Egypt hits jihadists as IS claims deadly attack on Christians

Britain arrests two more in Manchester attack probe

Turkey charges opposition newspaper staff

Death toll in Tripoli clashes reaches 52

Hundreds of migrants rescued in major operation off Libya

Palestinians end mass hunger strike in Israel jails

Egypt Christians bury victims with tears, anger

Ramadan in Libya: little cash, much violence

UN braces for up to 200,000 Iraqis to flee Mosul

Iraq forces launch broad attack on IS holdouts in Mosul

Civilians flee IS-held Syria cities after deadly strikes

At least 28 dead in Tripoli clashes

UN says nations bombing IS must protect civilians

26 killed in attack on Egypt Christians

Turkey identifies 'intelligence weaknesses' before coup attempt

Tunisia opens trial over 2015 beach massacre

Syria army takes control of key road

US-led strikes kill 35 civilians in east Syria

Probe finds over 100 Mosul civilians killed in US air strike

Palestinian president says US should mediate hunger strike

Libya says working closely with Britain over concert attack

EU leaders, Erdogan meet in bid to ease tensions

Myanmar to deport Turkish family wanted for alleged coup links

Iran says it has built third underground missile factory

Trump gets rough ride in EU, NATO meeting

Saudi minister confident on oil output deal

Egyptians brace for austere Ramadan

Qatari FM says country victim of smear campaign, particularly in US