Syria's President Assad: How I might leave power

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President Assad has survived another week and another visit by the world's envoy who had "candid" discussions with him.

The UN's Kofi Annan has left Syria and Assad is left in power.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad meets UN Syria peace envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad meets UN Syria peace envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus Credit: Reuters

But this weekend Assad made one observation he has never made before, not in quite the same way. It was directed at a Western audience. It was designed to send a message.

In many of his remarks he was right:

"The United States is against me, the West is against me, many regional powers and countries and the people against me", he told German television, "so, how could I stay in this position? The answer is, I still have a public support."

Syria's President Assad
Syria's President Assad Credit: Reuters

This is true. Many Syrians do still support him and his regime, preferring it to the chaos that might engulf the country and wipe out its secular freedoms.

But here's the interesting bit. "You can stay in this position", he said, "only when you have.. public support."

"Only". This from the man who, along with his father, has ruled by right and by force for forty two years.

In other words, in a country where his Alawite regime is in a very small minority, he is acknowledging that should the balance of public support change, he would walk. And he talked about "escaping", saying it wasn't something he could do now.

Now, I'm not naive. What he says amid a brutal war of survival is designed for one purpose and one purpose only - to retain power.

He cares not a jot about "public opinion". He is stroking Western opinion and pandering to our quaint Western values, so we might say "aw, he's not so bad after all."

He is also deluded, stating in the same interview that the number of people killed among his supporters was far greater than the toll of his opponents. Even the victims of the Houla massacre in May were apparently his supporters.

But in many of his remarks, he hit the nail on the head. And he hit it again by explaining the circumstances in which he might not rule. It's a chink. But an important one.