The events of July 18th have proven to be the biggest blow to President Bashar al Assad and his hold over the Syrian state to date. On that day a National Security Council meeting was bombed, resulting in the death of some of Assad’s closest colleagues. Those events, which took place in Damascus, have greatly weakened President Assad’s regime for two reasons: the importance of some of the victims and also the sheer unexpectedness of the event.
The dead included Assef Shawkat, the President’s brother-in-law; Daoud Rajiha, Syria’s Defence minister; and Hassan Turkmani, a former Defence minister who played a crucial role in the establishment of the Syrian security’s agencies. If one also accounts for those injured then the damage to Bashar al Assad, who is in his twelfth year of rule over the Syrian state, is worsened further. Top officials, such as Assad’s first cousin, Hafez Makhlouf, who was also an interrogator in Syria’s state security system, suffered severe injuries.
The procedure taken out by opposition forces for the assassination struck the world by surprise. It was reported that a remote-controlled bomb had been positioned inside the council’s meeting room by a bodyguard, ridiculing the President’s supposedly powerful security system.
Since the 18th of July, Assad has been losing an important sect of his supporters: Syria’s Christians. The death of General Daoud Rajiha, a Christian who was given a high rank in the Assad regime, could prove pivotal. Christians, who account for almost 10% of the Syrian population, may begin to worry for their security and how much longer the regime can sustain itself against the growing number of Islamists visible within rebel forces.
Although such events did leave Assad “staring into the abyss”, as one columnist for The Economist wrote, the end to this civil war is not as fast-approaching as one would hope. Rebel forces and most Syrians, quite justifiably, are not ready to chant songs of victory as the civilian death toll continues to rise. Opposition forces claim that over 20,000 Syrians have been killed leading to almost 300,000 fleeing the country. Almost 3,000 of those killed since the start of the uprising in Syria have been since the July 18th assassination.
More worryingly, however, is how the realm of international diplomacy and foreign media seem increasingly irrelevant in this on-going conflict. British newspapers and news channels seem to have subordinated the issue in the face of the Olympic events. Throughout the summer, leading newspapers have dedicated their front pages and sections solely to Olympians, their medals and their wild nightlife following their competitions. Public conversation seems to have diverted away from the Middle East towards how deserving Tom Daley was of his Olympic Bronze Medal or how much of an idol Mo Farah has become.
The greatest indicator of the failure in international diplomacy has been the resignation of Kofi Annan as the appointed mediator in the special envoy to Syria on August 2nd. Annan, who was the Secretary-General to the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, claimed that he resigned due to the United Nation’s lack of progress towards a resolution and a continued “finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council.”
Despite foreign secretary William Hague announcing that Britain will provide Syria’s rebels £5 million worth of non-lethal, practical assistance earlier this week, recent efforts have been poor. We will see little change in Syria’s near future should David Cameron, Nick Clegg and other politicians, who supposedly represent our interests, continue to spend more time socialising in events like the Olympics rather than agreeing on a solution.