Assad speech shows Syria regime will fight to end: analysts

BEIRUT, Rana Moussaoui - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's continued defiance in his latest televised address suggests his regime is ready to fight to the end to stay in power rather than offer real concessions to protesters, analysts say.
"Assad's dilemma is that he knows that people are determined -- they want plurality, they want democracy -- and he knows he cannot deliver," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

To make real concessions "would mean he has accepted to be overthrown whereas he will not leave power," Khashan told AFP.
"He will fight to the end."
In his third public address since protests broke out in Syria in mid-March, Assad promised on Monday a string of reforms that would end his regime's autocratic rule, but he stopped short of taking immediate drastic action.
Disappointed by Assad's speech, opposition leaders immediately organised rallies across the country, urging protesters not to lose steam in demanding his regime step down.
Analysts still downplay the possibility of deep-rooted reform under Assad.
"Authoritarian rulers are incapable of reform and they do not accept that they are being challenged," Khashan said. "Assad knows that plurality means his exit from power.
"The ruling elite will be changed; the Assad dynasty will end."
Fabrice Balanche, author of a book on Assad's Alawite-controlled regime, expects Assad's rule will become even more radicalised as the protests gain force.
"He will continue to pursue this approach" of cracking down on protests and making few concessions, said Balanche, a professor at L'Universite Lyon 2.
"Repression will be even more radicalised, along with the radicalisation of opposition against Assad," he told AFP.
Popular protests demanding the end of close to 50 years of rule by the Baath Party broke out in Syria on March 15. Syrian troops have since entered protest hubs across the country, crushing dissent with increasingly deadly violence.
Rights groups estimate more than 1,310 civilians and 341 security force members have been killed in the crackdown on protesters.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have also fled violence in recent weeks, seeking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon and Turkey.
Authorities have consistently accused "armed gangs" and fundamentalist Salafist Muslims of stirring the unrest and aiming to sow chaos in Syria, a majority Sunni country, an argument Assad reiterated on Monday.
"Assad said that the Salafist movement had 64,000 armed and trained members who possessed sophisticated weaponry inside Syria," said analyst Rafik Khoury.
"But in a country famed for its tight security, how is it even possible that a group that large was formed, trained and armed," asked Khoury, political editor of the local daily Al-Anwar.
With protesters showing no sign of giving in, observers say Assad's latest speech is little more than window-dressing and that his regime will likely adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
Balanche said Assad's promise of a parliamentary vote in August could well be aimed at pulling to his side "moderate" opposition leaders who seek seats in parliament.
"But overall, what he told the opposition was 'I don't care; I will not change my policies; I will not budge," Balanche said.
"Superficial changes will not change the fibre of the regime," added Khashan.
"There has been so much bloodshed for him to stop," he said. "The extent of the bloodshed so far means that he will go ahead with just as much bloodshed."
But as the death toll rises, observers say the government's tactics could play against Assad in the long run.
The international community has begun to take action against Assad and his close entourage, with the European Union slapping sanctions on the leader himself.
But for now the West seems undecided on harsh, unified action.
"It's not the number of dead that really affects the regime," said Balanche. "The real issues are that there are no more investors, the economy is frozen, the (pro-regime) bourgeoisie has begun to ask questions and people no longer have jobs."
Balanche said Western countries "will not intervene militarily nor will they impose an embargo, as embargoes are counterproductive, or pressure Russia," which has warned it is ready to use its veto power should the UN Security Council seek to adopt a resolution against Assad.

Wednesday, June 22nd 2011
Rana Moussaoui

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