Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was old and tired in Cairo. Syria's Bashir Assad is young and vigorous in Damascus. Assad could yet be toppled in Syria, but don’t count on it. And bet big on Muammar Qaddafi surviving and even coming out stronger than ever in Libya. After all, what do either of them have to worry about? The anger of Barack Obama? He used all his limited supply of that up on Mubarak -- America’s loyal ally of 30 years.
Sure, Assad has shot down at least 200 protestors so far, but the Iranians may have killed many more when they repressed protests up to a million strong after their highly contested presidential election nearly two years ago. And 200 dead is small beer compared with the 38,000 people Bashir’s uncle Rifaat Assad has claimed were killed when Bashir’s father, President Hafez Assad, mercilessly razed the city of Hama to the ground in 1982 because a highly popular and deeply Islamic popular uprising was taking place there at the time. Ever since then, the application of ruthless, merciless military power across the Middle East has been known as “Hama Rules.”
Meanwhile Bashir Assad is doing what any good politician does when the streets rise up against him. He’s playing rope-a-dope and rolling with the blows. This isn’t dopy or reflective of any loss of nerve, it’s the entirely correct tactical response to the crisis. Bashir has appointed a new Cabinet of generally fresh faces and he’s released a few hundred detainees. If they make too much trouble, they can always be picked up again.
More important by far, Iran is working hard behind the scenes and on the streets to preserve Assad, their own loyal ally and most important strategic partner in the Arab world.
Iran has played a major role in stirring up the Shiite population in Bahrain against their far more moderate, Sunni Muslim, generally pro –Western Arab royal family. The Iranians are close allies of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza. And that means they are also close allies of the Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood that is now by far the most important purely political force in Egypt. And unlike Barack Obama who threw Mubarak to the wolves in best Jimmy Carter style, the Iranians know the importance of Standing By Their Man.
To echo wise old Damon Runyon’s rewrite of the Book of Ecclesiastes, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s still the way to bet.”
Remember Iran’s determination and Obama’s wobbly weakness, and bet on Bashir Assad.
Martin Sieff is former Managing Editor, International Affairs of United Press International. He is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.”