x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Imagining Al Assad's thought process

What is going on in the mind of Bashar Al Assad now? An Arab columnist explores that question. Other comment excerpts today: Egypt's constitution, and delusional Syrian media.

What is Al Assad thinking while the West weighs its response to the use of chemical weapons?

Much has been said about the military strike against Syria's Al Assad regime, focusing on the attack's nature, duration and targets as the world awaits the US Congressional vote on whether to take punitive action after the regime's use of chemical weapons against civilians in Damascus last month.

But what about President Bashar Al Assad? What state of mind could he be in at this moment, and what would his reaction be should the military strike happen? Tariq Al Homayed, a contributing columnist with the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat, asked and answered that question.

In a recent statement, Mr Al Assad seemed confident that his allies would interfere and support him militarily in case of a strike, but all indications point to the contrary.

As a matter of fact, Mr Al Assad has dragged his allies into a conflict that threatens their interests. This may be the last thing that Iran or Hizbollah want.

The Iranian president made this point clear by saying his country is prepared to perform its religious and humanitarian duty by sending medical and other aid, should something befall the "Syrian people" and not "Al Assad."

Statements from Russia seem to imply that they wouldn't go as far as to confront the West militarily in defence of Mr Al Assad. The US secretary of state even confirmed that the Russians would not object to the passing of US naval vessels in the Mediterranean.

"Despite all the facts, there are still some observers who think of Mr Al Assad as an intelligent master of manoeuvres. However, a meticulous review of his experience in power reveals the exact opposite: during his term, Mr Al Assad repeatedly came out of one crisis only to get himself into another," the writer said.

The beginning of his term as president, which brought about false hopes of a new phase in Syria, witnessed a series of assassinations. His approach to the Iraq war and his policies in Lebanon had destructive repercussions on those countries and on Syria's reputation.

Mr Al Assad supported Lebanon and Gaza's wars with Israel because they gave legitimacy to the concepts of rejectionism and resistance. And his staunch support for Iran caused numerous tensions in his relationship with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"This all leads to the conclusion that the man based all his political decisions on false assumptions," the writer added.

Mr Al Assad must be increasingly nervous. This means that the world should expect the worst from him should the military strike take shape.

The Syrian president doesn't have the capabilities to make a difference in the confrontation, but he is capable of committing a folly that would prompt the international community to go farther than just a surgical retaliatory strike.

Constitution panel 'to put Egypt on track'

All eyes were on Egypt as its constituent assembly of 50 jurists and statesmen started its work on Sunday, amid poll figures that show 73 per cent of Egyptians do not yet feel safe in their own country, the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram said in its editorial yesterday.

But Egyptians still have high hopes for the future, for better lives and for a better constitution, the paper said. The same poll, conducted by Basira Centre for Public Opinion Research, showed that 62 per cent of Egyptians are expecting their life conditions to improve by next year.

"Egyptians are still pinning hopes on the process of democratisation, and the bustling debates around the constitution these days are nothing but a reflection of the Egyptian public's overflow of excitement," the newspaper said.

While the majority of the constituent assembly's members want to instil the principles of democracy, modernity, Egyptian national identity and the separation of state and religion, it is essential that the amended version of the constitution be the fruit of consensus and compromise, Al Ahram argued.

"The mistake that was made by the Freedom and Justice Party and its allies, when they excluded the opposition, must not be repeated," the newspaper added, noting that Egypt is looking forward to the new constitution as the cornerstone for rebuilding the nation.

'Delusional' analysts supporting Al Assad

A political analyst on Syrian state television recently claimed that President Barack Obama has, through Russian mediation, made a deal with President Bashar Al Assad to strike only pre-agreed, low-interest targets, so that the US could get away with the strike without fear of reprisal and the Syrian regime's losses would be kept to a minimum.

This is one of the instances that Hussein Odat, a columnist with the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan, picked up on in a roundup of pundit declarations that he ridiculed yesterday.

"A second analyst, on a Syrian satellite TV channel, said that the Syrian retaliation will consist in launching 1,000 missiles into Israel within an hour," Odat reported.

"A third analyst wowed his audience on a Syrian radio station, saying that the United States has already suffered a major loss even before launching the strike, and that would eventually lead to its downfall as a nation," Odat reported.

"For if Washington goes ahead with a limited strike, the Syrian regime will not be affected, which in itself will be a defeat for the US administration," the analyst reportedly said. "And if the strike is wide-ranging, then Syria will punish the US administration … in a way that would take the world by surprise.".

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk