[Update at end of post]
Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and by happy coincidence unopposed in both of the elections that he has faced so far, may not be short in stature. But by comparison to his father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country for 29 years before his death in 2000, he doesn’t have the “big man” presence. Old man Assad was one mean SOB; Bashar by comparison looks like an extra from the Muppet Show.
That isn’t to say that the son is just as capable as the father when it comes to ordering acts of violence, repression, human rights abuses, and the occasional massacre. But Bashar doesn’t carry his father’s sense of menace. So the urge to over-correct – to show everyone he’s really tough, a flaw that also affected former Pakistan leader Zia-ul-Haq – comes to the fore.
This readiness to show he’s the country’s hard man has been deployed rather too much as the Syrian people have of late tired of the al-Assad benevolence. So there have been many civilian deaths and serious injuries as protests against the regime in Damascus have spread and continued, in the face of strong-arm tactics from the Police and military.
The bloodshed has stirred the Arab League – which previously moved against Libya’s legendarily flatulent leader Muammar Gaddafi – into expelling Syria, although stressing that they aren’t (yet) asking for a no-fly zone or any other external intervention. The Syrian Government has not taken kindly to the expulsion, which came with a package of sanctions attached.
So what now for Bashar al-Assad? He’s already given the impression that the violence will end, then gone back on his word. His neighbours are tiring of the effect the disturbances are having on the region. Syria’s main ally, Iran, is under threat of further sanctions or worse over its bellicose attitude towards its nuclear programme and threatening behaviour towards Israel.
With Gaddafi, I said it was going to end badly, and that he had passed the point where he could row back and save his regime. That same point has already been passed in Syria: the best that al-Assad can hope for is that the Iranians give him and his family asylum. Otherwise he will join Nicolae Ceausescu, Benito Mussolini and, yes, Muammar Gaddafi in being humiliatingly and summarily executed.
It’s over, Bashar. Step away from those levers of power and leave the stage. Or someone else will cause you to leave.
[UPDATE 15 November: what did I tell you? King Abdullah of Jordan - who has read the unrest across the Middle East rather better than his fellow heads of state - has called for al-Assad to go, telling "if Bashar considers the interest of his country, he would step down". When the bloke next door tells you the game is up, it could be worth listening.
There have been pro-Assad rallies, especially in Damascus, but then, there were big pro-Gaddafi rallies in Tripoli, and look how that one turned out. Time to go, Bashar]