Current United Nations reports indicate that somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 Syrian citizens have been killed during the Syrian civil war. President Bashar Al-Assad spoke a couple of days ago for the first time in months and essentially said nothing of substance. The most recent data indicates rebels are closing in on Damascus and Assad’s days are numbered. Of course, this same prediction was made months ago. Cutting through the spin and misinformation, here is what I’m finding behind the clouds of smoke and fire.
Russia appears to have finally backed off. Foreign minister Sergev V. Lavror released a statement saying that there was no possibility that Assad would leave Syria. Lavror also said that the rebels insistence that Assad leave as a precondition for peace would only result in more loss of life. In recent weeks, Russia has been steadily retreating from support for the Assad regime. While they backed away from Assad, they acknowledged the loss of government held territory. The Russians now realize their unyielding support of Assad has resulted in a loss of face, trust, and prestige in the Arab world. They are on the losing end and hustling to attempt to regain prestige in the entire region. Unfortunately, they have waited so long that they have helped create the mounting death toll.
Attempting to set the stage for forward momentum, Russia also announced a trilateral gathering in a few weeks involving the United States in an attempt to restore some stability (while making Russia appear positive to the Arabs).
The bottom line is that Assad is not only seeing his top leadership defect, but has lost his major source of support. Iran must also be worried. Will Assad flee? One must factor in Assad’s Islamic faith that could allow him to die a martyr while fighting in a battle for what he might conclude involves his faith. We have seen plenty of evidence that the Islamic world has no hesitance in such suicidal actions. On the other hand, Assad could have an airplane waiting in the back yard. Apparently, his most faithful supporters in Russia have concluded they can’t second guess him.
In the midst of the killing and chaos, a bright lights does still exist inside Syria. Recently I received a report from journalist Alessandra Nucci on Trappist Nuns living in Aleppo and telling the world Merry Christmas. This contemplative order celebrated Christmas in the midst of war by reassuring the world that nothing has quenched the light shinning in the darkness. Their New Year’s message was a prayer for peace, reconciliation, dialogue, and mutual forgiveness The members continue to intercede for a faith that nurtures and transfigures. From the midst of the tragic conflict in Aleppo arises a renewed hope in the midst of despair.
Tragically, we are not likely to see those prayers answered quickly. I believe the civil war will continue well into 2013. In the post-communist era we learned that repressed societies need to recover a motivated populace if they are to become politically viable again. Suppression by totalitarian governments takes decades to be repaired. The state is set for continuing upheaval long after the Assad regime disappears.
Let us hope that someone in authority listens to those Trappist nuns.