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."

 

At least 235 killed in Egypt mosque attack

Saudi Crown Prince calls Iran supreme leader 'new Hitler'

Syrian opposition agrees to send united delegation to Geneva talks

Saudi-led coalition clears passenger flights to Sanaa

Baghdad's Shabandar cafe marks century since opening

Turkey says Trump pledged to stop arming Kurds

Turkey president sues main opposition party leader

Lebanon's Hariri brings status quo back with him

Activists say 'everybody knew' about Libya slave trade

Erdogan says no contact 'at the moment' with Assad

Lebanon's Jumblatt criticises Saudi Arabia, Iran

China says it will make efforts on Syria reconstruction

Turkey to detain 79 former teachers in post-coup probe

Hezbollah hails PM's suspension of resignation

Syrian opposition aims for unity at talks in Riyadh

Egypt police kill 3 Islamists in shootout

Turkey unsure if Assad to be part of Syria political transition

Migrant arrivals from Libya down since EU deal

Palestinian factions leave Cairo talks with little progress

Sudan’s Bashir looks to Putin for ‘protection’ from US aggression

China, Djibouti forge 'strategic' ties

IS propaganda channels fall quiet in 'unprecedented' hiatus

Kremlin to create Syria congress despite Turkey ‘reservations’

Netanyahu berates deputy minister for 'offensive' remarks on US Jews

Egypt PM heads to Germany for medical treatment

Egypt destroys 10 SUVs carrying arms on Libya border

Outrage in Iraq over 'child marriage' bill

Iraq launches operation to clear last IS holdouts from desert

Saudi-led coalition to reopen Yemen airport, port to aid

Turkey court rules to keep Amnesty chief in jail

France calls for UN meeting on Libya slave-trading

Egypt detains 29 for allegedly spying for Turkey

WTO panel to hear Qatar’s complaint against UAE blockade

Three dead as diphtheria spreads in Yemen

Lebanon’s Hariri suspends resignation

Israel seizes explosive material at Gaza border

Activists call for release of UK journalist held by IS

Bahrain upholds jail sentence for activist

Iraq attacks at lowest since 2014

Turkey continues crackdown in post-coup probe

Hariri back in Lebanon

Putin to hold Syria peace talks with Erdogan, Rouhani

US carries out air strikes against IS in Libya

Divided Syria opposition meets in Riyadh

Lebanon's Hariri in Egypt ahead of return home