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January 6, 2006
The Syrian Tipping Point

The tipping point for Syrian tyranny may have come yesterday as former regime vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam announced publicly that he wants to lead a popular revolution to oust the Bashar Assad dictatorship and to see the former opthalmologist in prison for the murder of Rafik Hariri. Meanwhile, he made clear, he remains available to the UN if it really wants to investigate Syrian crimes:

Former Syrian Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam wants to oust President Bashar al-Assad through a popular uprising, he told an Arabic newspaper.

Mr Khaddam told the Pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat that the pressure for change had to come from within Syria.

On Thursday, he said Mr Assad should go to prison for complicity in the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. ...

Mr Khaddam said he had not asked other nations to help Syria's opposition.

"I did not contact anybody because change has to come from within. If the main vector for change is external, then the interests of the country are harmed."

Earlier, when democratic protests had first appeared in the streets of Beirut, some stirrings of domestic protest had been rumored in Damascus as well. They never coalesced into the kind of revolution seen in Lebanon or even in Egypt, where strongman Hosni Mubarak had to make some concessions to remain in power. The lack of a central figure inspiring loyalty could have been a missing ingredient in Syria -- and now anti-Assad forces may well have found one. Unfortunately, Khaddam is somewhat of a cipher. Is he expressing a desire to free Syria and introduce democracy, or does he just propose to replace Assad while keeping the same mechanisms of Syrian oppression at his own fingertips?

Unfortunately, we won't know that for sure until we see Khaddam in action. Considering Syria's track record on everything from interference with our mission in Iraq, funding for Hezbollah, threat to Israel, and the new strategic alliance with Iran, he could hardly be worse than Assad is now. Besides, if he isn't serious about democracy, then he should beware calling for a popular uprising. Those tend to get away from people who want to use them merely for a different brand of oppression.

At any rate, Khaddam's outspoken rhetoric may well spark a flame that will spell the end of Assad and his henchmen. Expect Assad to overreact and attempt to kill Khaddam, making him that much more of a martyr and causing an explosion of anger and protest that will make the Cedar Revolution look like an Easter parade.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 6, 2006 5:52 AM

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