In a rare interview with German TV, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed the idea that he and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi have anything in common, but we can help him think of at least a few things. Assad's remarks Sunday were prompted by a question from a reporter with Germany's ARD network about whether he's scared of suffering a similar fate as Qaddafi who was, of course, brutally sodomized before being killed. "To be scared, you have to compare," Assad said. "Do we have something in common? It's a completely different situation... You cannot compare." Actually, we can compare. And here's where we would start:
Astounding disconnection with everyday people? Check. With his golden guns and celebrity-filled parties, the obnoxious wealth that surrounded Qaddafi was infamous. Same goes for the unbridled consumerism of Assad and his wife Asma in particular. In fact, Asma's glamorous shopping binges were bad enough to get her on a European Union sanctions blacklist in March. (The sprees included tens of thousands of dollars on jewels, Venetian glass from Harrods and jewels in London and Paris.) And as the Assads enjoy privilege, so do Syria's elites. Today, a Newsweek feature by Janine di Giovanni, probably gives the best example yet of ridiculous excess enjoyed by the pro-Assad crowd. While thousands die in the street everyday, di Giovanni takes an in-depth look into the lavish lifestyles of this small circle. "For days, I listened to the thumping music and watched the beauties in their fluorescent Victoria’s Secret bikinis partying at the pool at the Dama Rose Hotel, where I was staying. (More than once, I thought of Nero fiddling as Rome burned.) Syria, I realized, has become a schizophrenic place; a place where people’s realities no longer connect."
Increasingly isolated? Check. Before Qaddafi's fall, it became clear that the erratic dictator had fewer and fewer friends to rely on. While Assad's circle of friends isn't quite as small as Qaddafi's, it's becomingly increasingly tight. This morning, The Associated Press reports that Russia, Syria's key alley, is halting its weapons sales to Syria. "Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, told Russian news agencies ... that Russia is not going to sign any new arms deals with Syria or send any more weapons," reads the report. According to The AP, the senior Russian official said that no more guns would flow in Syria until "the situation there calms down."
Popular uprising? Check. Like in Libya, the head of state is finding himself at odds with the majority. In Syria, this is due in large part to sectarian divisions in the country. Assad's Baath Party is dominated by his fellow Alawites, a Shia offshoot, while the country itself is a majority Sunni population. This contrast was made all the more stark last week when Gen. Manaf Tlas, a rare Sunni within Assad's ranks, defected.
So what's different about these two leaders? For one: Their militaries. As U.S. defense officials have repeatedly warned, Syria's defense capabilities, in particular its anti-aircraft weaponry, are formidable. Another factor is the U.N. While a broad coalition of countries were corralled to support a U.N. resolution against Libya, there's been no such luck in Syria, where Russia and China have vetoed efforts to clamp down on Assad. Another lingering question is whether or not Assad can be convinced to step down in exchange for asylum. Qaddafi would make no such bargain but maybe this is a road Assad would rather go down? The alternative certainly isn't so appetizing.