The echoes of gunshots that could be heard throughout Aleppo and Damascus over the past few days show that the Assad regime is knocking on death's door. While it seems Syrian President Bashar Assad could stay in power for some time, it is hard to know exactly how long that will be: days, weeks or even months. But the trend is clear: Assad's regime is crumbling rapidly, and Monday's defection of Prime Minister Riyad Hijab makes this explicitly clear. The move joins the last dramatic event, when opposition forces managed to assassinate four senior members of the Assad regime on July 18.
Hijab's defection is the most significant one thus far, out of all those members of Assad's regime who have already escaped the country. It is a slap in the face for Assad and his honor, and serves as a win for the rebels, especially on a symbolic level. Hijab, who was only appointed to the role of prime minister two months ago and does not belong to Assad's close-knit clique, is not a key player in the Syrian regime. Like the rest of the Arab regimes, the prime minister of Syria is a government cleric that simply carries out the policies of the president who appointed him.
Furthermore, Hijab is Sunni and was not appointed by the elite Alawites. He is also a resident of Deir al-Zour, a city that suffered greatly from the regime's attempts to crush the anti-Assad uprising. But in spite of it all, Hijab was personally appointed by the president, a character who is supposed to carry out his policies without even questioning them. And yet, it is precisely this man who decided to humiliate Assad, no less.
Hijab's spokesman said his defection was in fact planned from the moment he assumed the role of prime minister, exactly two months before he deserted Damascus and arrived in Jordan. He coordinated the move with the "enemy" – the "Free Syrian Army" – in order to ensure a safe arrival at the Jordanian border. The Syrian army managed to shoot a few targets toward Hijab's convoy (which included about ten families), but it was too late and too weak to prevent the defection.
It is still unclear who joined Hijab. According to Al-Arabiya reports, the prime minister was joined by three generals and two ministers: the oil minister and the environmental protection minister. On Monday, there were also reports that an additional general defected, the nephew of Syria's vice-president, Sharouk Farouk, who, too, has been absent from public eye of late.
This is a never-ending flow of defections of people who understand the Syrian ship is sinking. The Sunni elite that marched by Assad's side until recently is abandoning him, leaving him more dangerous than ever. In the meantime, most of the Syrian army is continuing to stand by Assad's side and has managed to reclaim some of Damascus neighborhoods. But it is safe to say that the prime minister's defection will only accelerate the flow of desertions and that Assad's time is running out.
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