x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Assad regime cannot survive its own truths

As defections continue and leaks multiply, we are learning how out of touch Bashar Al Assad really is, and each revelation will lead to more defections and a weaker tyrant.

Since the Syrian uprising began a year ago, the situation has been shrouded in mystery and speculation. This is understandable: the country has always been isolated and the regime has increasingly tightened its inner circle.

But defections are mounting and, in the process, outsiders are gaining important insights into the regime's inner workings. These insights, in turn, will probably spur more high-ranking defections.

Earlier this month, Syria's deputy oil minister, Abdu Hussameddin, announced his defection on YouTube. As the highest-ranking civilian defector, he has related how the regime diverts resources to fund brutal security forces, the mukhabarat, and the informal militias, or shabbiha.

Following Mr Hussameddin's defection, nine generals have reportedly done the same, most of them crossing into Turkey. These high-ranking leaders will prove to be important in organising, training and deploying the Syrian Free Army, which has so far been an archipelago of many unruly groups. They should also tie the armed resistance closer to the fragmented political opposition.

Last week, The Guardian published a cache of leaked emails said to be from President Bashar Al Assad and some of his inner circle. This should put an end to the equivocation in media, referring to Mr Al Assad and his wife as "London-raised" or "UK-educated", as if that meant they couldn't possibly be capable of the massacres. Even Asma Al Assad, the "Rose of the Desert" as Vogue called her in February 2011, is seen giving cold advice that could lead to people's deaths.

There are small details that might seem absurd: Mrs Al Assad calls her husband "duck"; Hadeel Al Ali, his young media adviser, sounds like a teenager in her messages. These points might be ignored by policymakers, but as Syrians take to calling the dictator a duck, there is a serious psychological component as well. It is reminiscent of the "zenga, zenga" taunts thrown at Muammar Qaddafi in his last days.

Arguably the most important defection came this week when Abdel Majid Barakat, a trusted Baath party official, left with a trove of documents about the regime's strategy against the uprising. One document is a decree signed by Mr Al Assad that deems every gathering to be a riot. In general, there is an outline of how the regime wants to insulate Damascus and Aleppo from the turmoil - a strategy that is failing, given recent violence.

All these defections and documents are remarkably significant in Syrian public perception. They show Mr Al Assad's direct hand in the bloodshed and also show a regime strategy that is fragmenting from within.