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But the Wall Street Journal reports that even though Erdogan has been cautious in moving toward full opposition to the Assad regime, Turkey now sees Assad as an impediment to its hegemonistic designs in the Middle East. The newspaper quotes Ilter Turan, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, who said, ”As long as Assad is there, the road for Iran to extend its influence through the Middle East and the Mediterranean is open.” With both nations vying for power and influence in the region, knocking his former friend off his throne would mean that any new regime in Syria would almost certainly be less friendly to Tehran.
Three quarters of the Syrian population is Sunni Muslim and it is thought that even a pluralistic, secular government as a successor to Assad would pull back from aligning itself too closely with Shia Iran. The chances of that kind of government emerging from post-Assad Syria are exceedingly slim, however. Nowhere else in the Arab world has the “Arab Spring” led to any government except an Islamist one. And just recently, the Syrian opposition hosted Muslim Brotherhood cleric Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi in Qatar. Allowing the resurrection of the Muslim Brotherhood — nearly destroyed by Assad’s father Hafez in a series of brutal massacres during the 1980s – is a dangerous sign for the mostly idealistic secularists on the Syrian National Council.
But even with the opposition making tentative strides in planning for a post-Assad Syria, civilians are still targets for Assad’s security forces — including the dreaded Shabiha militia. The black clad thugs are often in the front ranks of assaults by the army on protestors, firing into crowds, beating the wounded, and shooting soldiers who refuse orders to slaughter unarmed demonstrators. They also conduct brutal house-to-house searches in suspected disloyal neighborhoods, arresting men and boys indiscriminately while helping themselves to household goods. The Shabiha also search local hospitals and drag wounded protesters to secret detention centers — even if their wounds are too severe to allow them to be moved. This has caused activists to set up makeshift hospitals in safe houses to treat those with gunshot wounds.
Can Assad afford to halt his crackdown even if it means more sanctions and possible UN intervention? Even if he personally desired to stop the killing, the regime’s elite, made up almost entirely of members of Islam’s Alawite sect, would almost certainly launch a rebellion of their own. The vast majority of wealth and power is currently held by the Alawites — who comprise just 7% of the population — and they would almost certainly lose their privileges if Assad were to give in and allow a multi-party democratic state.
So for the foreseeable future, Assad has little choice but to continue on the course he has chosen. No matter how isolated he and his country become, the killing will go on until a greater power than the dictator currently wields either forces reforms or, more likely, forces him out.
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