Beleaguered Syrian dictator Bashar Assad “accepted the resignations” of his cabinet yesterday. This is a standard move from the tyrant survival playbook – they always make a big show of firing their cabinets when they’re in trouble. It’s not a maneuver with a great track record of success, having done Hosni Mubarak very little good.
As the Associated Press notes, “The resignations will not affect Assad, who holds the lion’s share of power in the authoritarian regime.” One supposes the great majority of Syrians understands this.
The AP notes an interesting component of the Syrian unrest: Assad and the rest of the ruling class are Shiites (more specifically, members of the Alawite sect) while the majority of the population is Sunni. This is the opposite of the situation in Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules a much larger Shiite population. President Saleh of Yemen, who is eyeballing the exits as his country falls apart, is a Shiite presiding over a majority Sunni population. Egypt had a growing and unhappy Shiite population, which Mubarak was not shy about blaming for his troubles. This “Arab Spring” seems to be drawing some of its energy from long-suppressed sectarian rivalries. It’s interesting to note that Assad and his apparatchiks have been very loudly denouncing anyone who talks about sectarian divisions in Syria.
Assad is scheduled to roll out some reforms to appease Syrian dissidents, including a long-rumored lifting of the emergency laws in place since 1963. If your country is in a state of “emergency” for almost fifty years, you’re doing something wrong.
The regime still has a lot of support, and made a point of demonstrating it by organizing huge pro-Assad rallies around the country. Government troops have killed at least sixty demonstrators during the current crackdown. A dissident movement that can survive that kind of bloodshed seems unlikely to accept the resignations of some flunkies and call it a day, but Assad might hope that a few scapegoats will be enough to shore up his position among those who are looking for reasons not to join the rebellion, and risk getting shot or beaten to death. He still has plenty of cards to play, and he can be confident the “international community” will leave him alone to play them.