Jan 3, 2006 2:38 am


It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the interview Abd al-Halim Khaddam, the former Syrian vice president, gave to Al Arabia for the simple reason that he is a member of the Sunni majority in an minority dominate Alwaite (a Shia sect) regime. In the interview, Khaddam accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of threatening Mr Hariri just months before his murder in February 2005. The delighted Saad Hariri called it"historic testimony." It should be noted that like the murdered Hariri with whom he had a complicated relationship, Khaddam and his family enjoy the added protection of a dual Syrian - Saudi citizenship.

But while the world focuses on the Lebanese angel, the Syrian regime was much more concerned with his attack on its performance. Umeima Faddoul, a Syrian legislator, said:

"I ask the Syrian leadership to try him ... for humiliating 10 million Syrians when he said half of the Syrian people are eating from the garbage."

Indeed, Khaddam, who resigned the vice presidency in June, said he did so because"he was 'convinced that the process of development and reforms, be they political, economic or administrative, will not succeed' and preferred to choose 'the motherland' over 'the regime.'"

Syrian Sunnis may be just as interested in holding on to Lebanon as the Alwaites are and they may care little about Hariri but they care plenty about their standard of living and may heed the call to overthrow the autocratic minority rule. Let us not forget, if democracy in Iraq means Shia rule, democracy in Syria means Sunni rule as Sunnis make up 80% of the population.

Khaddam also implied that he may reveal more (in a book?):"I have many things to say, serious things, when the time is right."

On the other hand, he"also said that his relationship with al-Assad remained 'amicable'." Perhaps he tried to separate Bashir from his father's cronies. A Syrian website reports that Khaddam said that, while he plans to stay in Paris, his family will return to Damascus. A person writing under the pseudonym, The Foxes Of Syria, correctly doubted that possibility:

Khaddam sons are finished in Syria. All what they own was for sale at any price. They have Saudi Passports since the 80's so I suspect they might be safe. They could intemidate Bashar by returning as a prelude for the Saudis breaking hell loose over Bashar in case he touches them.

By ousting Khaddam from the Baath Party and suggesting that he be tried for treason, the regime must have ended any ideas members of his family may have had of returning to Damascus but they must have good internal connections helpful for a velvet revolution.

So, the real question is: how many more blows can the Syrian regime absorb? Dr. Eyal Zisser believes at least a few more. I believe the Sunnis are anxious to make up for the loss of Iraq and no one knows that better than the Iranians.

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