Syrian official's YouTube resignation: was it coerced? (VIDEO)

Syrian authorities insist that a high-ranking official was forced by kidnappers to make a resignation video. If the defection is genuine, however, it would add to the Assad regime's increasing isolation.

By , Staff writer

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    Screen shot from YouTube video of Adnan Mohammad al-Bakkour's resignation as attorney general of Syria's Hama province.
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The attorney general of the restive Syrian province of Hama announced his defection from President Bashar al-Assad's regime in a video posted to YouTube on Wednesday.

"I, Judge Adnan Mohammad al-Bakkour, Hama Province Attorney-General, declare that I have resigned in protest of the savage regime's practices against peaceful demonstrators," Mr. Bakhour said in the video, released by activists.

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Syrian authorities claim that Bakkour was kidnapped while traveling to work on Monday and that he was forced to produce the video falsely announcing his defection, Reuters reports.

Due to the Assad regime's strenuous efforts to prohibit foreign journalists from operating in Syria during the brutal crackdown of the past few months, no mainstream news sources could yet verify whether Bakhour did in fact intend to resign.

If the video was indeed genuine, however, Bakhour would be the first high-level official to defect, reports Reuters. The move would signal cracks in one of Assad's last pillars of support, and the video comes on the heels of a series of moves by Assad allies to distance themselves from his regime.

A bad week for Assad

The video follows the defection of Syrian soldiers, harsh criticism of the regime from former ally Turkey, and insistence from staunch supporter Iran that Assad heed the protesters' demands.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, even spoke out, saying the uprising needed to be resolved without further violence.

The Assad regime has made it clear it plans to fight to the end – but that end is coming closer, writes Rami Khouri, an editor at Lebanon's The Daily Star.

In the past week, a steady stream of incidents and signals all add up to strengthen the trend that has pertained for several months now: The regime is increasingly isolated at home and abroad, but remains bunkered down and ready to fight to the end. The exact nature of that end scenario is not clear, but seems imminent now, especially in view of just the past week’s events.

When Syria’s two closest allies in the world – Iran and Hizbullah – publicly acknowledge that the problems in Syria are deep and cannot be resolved by current hard security measures, this is a monumental signal that Syria is in deep trouble.

The international criticism is happening alongside increased organization within Syria's opposition.

Business community's loyalty wanes

Another critical source of support for Assad has been Syria's businessmen, who have remained loyal through several rounds of sanctions on the country.

However, The Financial Times reports from Damascus that their steadfast support could be at its breaking point with the European embargo on Syrian oil imports expected to begin later this week. (The blog Syria Comment posted the full content of the article, typically behind a paywall, here.)

Syrian businessmen say that could spell disaster for their businesses and the Syrian economy, already on its knees after five months of protests and violence.

“The effect of sanctions will be dramatic,” says one leading business figure in Damascus. “Business is already basically zero; this is just going to mean a slow death for the economy.”

Another person in the business services sector agrees, arguing that relations with Syria’s biggest trading partner are crucial. “[Syrian allies] Russia and China are no substitute for the EU,” he says. “Losing it will be disastrous.”

No member of the business elite has publicly denounced the regime. But while the elite is regarded as a crucial pillar of support for Bashar al-Assad, the president, there are signs it is becoming increasingly sympathetic to the protesters’ cause.

The business community is beginning to blame the regime for their misfortune, despite the regime's efforts to direct their anger toward the US and Europe.

“The regime has sacrificed the economy for its own survival,” one businessman interviewed by the Financial Times said.

Mr. Khouri writes that the Syrian government has squandered the formerly steadfast support of groups like the business community and Army and remaining support is no longer borne of loyalty, but fear.

The problem that Assad and his system now face is that he has wasted much of that support and legitimacy, and is now ‘strong’ in a very different and much more vulnerable manner. The Syrian regime is strong now in the same way that a company of soldiers is strong when grouped together in a fortified camp that is totally encircled by hostile forces. The regime still has decisive leaders, many security services, a core political/demographic base of support at home, plenty of tanks and ammunition, billions of dollars of money, and tens of thousands of foot soldiers. All these assets, however, are bunched into an increasingly smaller and smaller space, with fewer and fewer regional or international connections of any sort, and are confronting mass popular rallies that steadily grow in frequency, size, bravado, and political intensity around the country. Using battlefield tanks to kill your own civilians inside cities is not a sign of strength, but rather of savagery born of desperation.

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