This weeks devastating bombing at the National Security Building in the heart of Damascus, which killed four high-ranking members of President’s Assad’s regime, once again brought the worlds attention back to Syria. Along with the fierce fighting across Damascus that followed the bombing in “Operation Damascus Volcano”, there has been much speculation about the future of the Syrian regime and President Assad. Some commentators have asked where is Assad while others have speculated Assad’s inner circle has been irreversibly weakened. The Guardian even suggested the Assad regime is starting to unravel.
But lets be realistic, while the attack and violence in Damascus is significant in the Syrian conflict, it is not signalling the end of President Assad. The Assad regime still receives large support in Damascus, which is key to the Syrian conflict (see earlier post). Even after the bombing and the violence in the capital, security forces were able to quickly gain control of key neighbourhoods, like Midan (granted it was through the use of excessive force including artillery and helicopter gunships). But where was the wide spread support and demonstrations by the population in these areas? Outsiders from The Free Syrian Army (FSA) had caused the violence in these areas and not the general population (This is from the FSA’s own admission stating that outsiders had been infiltrating the capital over a number of weeks), which is telling. While many citizens in Damascus are unlikely to shed a tear if the Assad regime falls, they have yet to come out in full defiance (as was seen in Homs and Hama), which is a key factor for overthrowing the regime.
This is due the demographic make up of the capital containing large amounts of staunch Assad supporters. These supporters maintain some of the most important positions in the city that is key to controlling the population, for example the local intelligence chiefs. A Syrian friend once told me that he thought at least 300,000 Alawites lived in the centre of Damascus (President Assad’s clan) and that the local intelligence chief in the area where he lived was known to be an Alawite and a steadfast support of Assad.
This demographic factor, for the moment is keeping Assad in power. The FSA are certainly pressuring the regime like they have never before, but with the majority of the army still under the control of the regime and better equipped than the rebels, the FSA still have an awful long way to go. Remember too that the Assad regime has been in power for over 40 years, which is a long time to perfect holding onto power.
J Robinson – Twitter: @ jprobinsons