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Syria: Despite prime minister's defection, Assad’s inner circle intact (+video)

On Monday, following the defection of Syria's Prime Minister Riad Hijab to Jordan fighting continued, particularly in Damascus and Aleppo. Though Hijab's departure was high-profile, it does not appear to be a threat to Assad's closest allies. 

As Aleppo shudders under a barrage of shellfire, the desertion of Syria's PM marks one of the most high-profile defections from President Bashar al-Assad's government.
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Syrian President Bashar Assad’s administration struck a defiant tone Monday, renewing its counterattack on rebel forces in the country’s largest cities and vowing to stay in place, despite the defection of the country’s prime minister.

The defection of Prime Minister Riad Hijab to Jordan was the highest-profile departure from Assad’s government so far, but analysts said it was unlikely to indicate a fatal fissure in his inner circle. Hijab, who’d been appointed just two months ago, is a Sunni Muslim, while Assad’s most ironclad allies are fellow members of his minority Alawite sect. Assad appointed a successor within hours.

Sectarian rhetoric has worsened on both sides of the nascent civil war in recent weeks, with the regime portraying the rebels as Sunni terrorists and the rebels calling Alawites heretics and blaming them for Assad’s ability to withstand international isolation and sanctions for 17 months. Human rights groups already are raising concern that Alawites will face bloody reprisal attacks should Assad fall.

About five Alawite clans, all linked through intermarriage and business interests, control the real power bases in Syria — such as the security apparatus and the military — and there have been no notable defections from their ranks, said Ammar Abdulhamid, an exiled opposition member who is on the Syria Working Group at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a think tank in Washington.

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