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The Middle East after Assad

BERLIN – What will the Middle East look like once the Syrian civil war brings about the fall of President Bashar al-Assad, whose clan has ruled the country with an iron fist for more than 40 years? Given the recent dramatic turn of events that has pushed the battle for Syria to a new stage, this question can no longer be avoided.

The successful bomb attack on Assad’s innermost circle, the spread of the fighting into the capital, Damascus (and to the borders with Turkey and Iraq), and the increasing flow of heavier and more precise arms to the insurgents mark the beginning of the endgame. But no one should harbor false hopes about the coming change: Assad’s regime will not be supplanted by a rule-of-law democracy. On the contrary, the post-Assad era is likely to be even more chaotic and violent, as the regime’s opponents attempt to settle accounts with its supporters and conflict erupts among various clans and religious communities.

As in other Arab countries, a secular tyranny will be replaced by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which in Syria, no less than in Egypt and Tunisia, represents the majority of the population. But, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, regime change will be the outcome of civil war. Outside influence, moreover, will probably be minimal.

What is clear is that the Assad regime’s demise will have far-reaching consequences for the regional distribution of power between Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and also for regional conflicts, particularly those involving Palestine, Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon, and Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, the Assad regime’s downfall will have broader international consequences, owing to the de facto alliance between Russia and Syria.