Syria's Assad Should Step Down to Avoid the Fate of Saddam, Mubarak, and Gaddafi

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s two-hour rambling speech on January 10 denouncing his detractors and blaming foreign intervention for the violence that is engulfing his country is a sure sign of his weakness. The fact that he delivered the speech signifies that Assad is in very serious trouble, and that he will soon fall.

When Arab dictators are in trouble, they have a tendency to give defiant speeches blaming their countries’ problems on outside influences or other scapegoats. From Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, the dictators have fallen one by one following defiant speeches in which they swear they will never relinquish power. Saddam and Gaddafi are both dead. Although Mubarak is still alive, prosecutors in his country are said to be seeking the death penalty.

The real problems, however, are the dictators themselves. They have killed, tortured, and abused their own people until the people have had enough. The daily indignities, the lack of jobs, the lack of opportunities, and the lack of political power are eventually too much to bear.

The dictators’ speeches follow a similar pattern. After keeping away from the public eye, they emerge with strong words that are devoid of reality. Maybe their advisors have failed to tell them of the real problems on the streets. Or maybe the dictators have actually convinced themselves that they will retain power. In any case, it is hard for them to truly understand and accept that their own people do not support them.

Simply put, Arab despots are delusional. This kind of delusion has a history in the Arab world. In 1967, after Israel destroyed the Egyptian army in Sinai, Egyptian radio continued to proclaim victory.


Instead of reforming their failing states and providing both political power and economic opportunities for their citizens, these dictators hunker down and proclaim that they will never give up power. The reforms they eventually announce in a last ditch effort to retain power are offered too little, too late.

Assad vowed to crush the conspiracy and strike the terrorist with an iron fist, but his protestations that “victory is near” fell on deaf ears. His claim that he rules Syria because of the will of the Syrian people demonstrates that he operates in a parallel world that is not based in reality.

The Arab dictators are often offered an opportunity to go into exile in exchange for a smoother transition. Gaddafi first refused to leave Libya, and when it was too late, Algeria refused to take him. He met his fate at the hands of his people. A defiant Saddam Hussein, was hiding for months, before he was captured by the U.S. military and turned over to Iraqi authorities to be eventually sentenced and executed. Former Tunisian President Zein El Abidine Ben Ali fared better. Although he was initially rejected by France, Saudi Arabia finally provided him with a safe-haven.

Now that Assad has followed in the footsteps of his Arab dictator brethren and given his defiant speech, he should voluntarily relinquish power. If he does, his people may allow him to retire at 46 years old instead of executing him if he balks and insists on standing his ground.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons 

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Zaid A. Zaid

Zaid A. Zaid is lawyer in Washington, DC. Zaid was formerly a political officer in the Foreign Service, serving in Iraq, Egypt, and Tunisia, as well as the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. He is a member of the American Constitution Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.

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