As Gaza, Iraq and other conflicts dominate global headlines, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has quietly embarked on a third term in office. Not that it makes a difference, because Assad can install himself in power for any number of terms, but the development points to the new turn of events in Syria. The conflict is turning in Assad’s favour, or at least remaining static, giving the president enough room to maneuvre to consolidate his position. With jihadists rampaging across Iraq and the Western and Arab focus shifting to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, a confident Assad is telling the world that he sees no challenge to his presidency.
For the past several months, the Syrian crisis has been simmering in the background, with the West losing interest in the crisis and Arabs caught in a cul-de-sac, unable to find a solution. Nobody is suggesting any formula, and even the Syrian opposition is meeting less often as there is little they could achieve on the ground. And now comes the Iraq crisis, which has turned out to be far more serious for the region.
Addressing lawmakers and officials in a triumphant speech, Assad used the Iraq crisis to justify his argument that the revolt against him was a terrorist conspiracy and those who supported the efforts to oust him will face the consequences. “We warned that this is a crisis that won’t stop at Syria, but some said the Syrian president was threatening the world with empty words,” Assad said in an hour-long speech, delivered at his presidential palace in Damascus. “Isn’t what we see now in Iraq, Lebanon and other countries of the ‘spring’ exactly what we warned against repeatedly?” he asked. “We will see later how the West will pay the price, too.”
His contention is not without some meat: the West and others will be far more comfortable with a dictator like Assad in power than a terrorist outfit like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). If the world is equating, at least to some degree, the legitimate opposition in Syria with the ISIS, it speaks of a failure of the opposition to convince the world that they are different. Even when European countries and America were thinking of arming the opposition when the anti-Assad revolt was at its peak, what made them hold back was a fear that the weapons could fall in the wrong hands. In that sense, the opposition failed to weed out terrorists from their midst.
Syrians need to rebuild their lives and plan their future. The current uncertainty is unacceptable. The opposition needs to take the latest developments into account and plan accordingly.