PM's defection quite likely a personal not political choice


SYRIA’S INFORMATION minister, Omran Zoubi, declared yesterday that prime minister Riad Hijab had defected and accused him of evading responsibility by leaving his post “in an illegitimate manner”.

“Syria has sufficient human resources to cover the posts of those who flee . . . Syria is doing fine and will continue to do so. There’s absolutely no reason to worry,” he said defiantly.

An independent source pointed out that three days before his defection, Hijab was praised in the Syrian media for “going out and meeting the people and being hands-on” in the conduct of his job.

The source argued that the importance of Hijab’s defection was “psychological rather than political”. Nevertheless, it “will weaken the regime. More defections are likely.”

He predicted that the external opposition and its supporters would claim the regime is close to collapse and demand arms and funds for the rebels to hasten the day.

“I do not think the regime is losing control,” the source said.

He argued that Hijab was not really prime minister, but “chairman of the council of ministers, a bureaucrat rather than a policymaker. The cabinet does not dissolve” in his absence.

“If, for instance, the Lebanese prime minister stands down, the cabinet is dismissed.”

Colleagues with whom the source discussed the defection agreed that Hijab’s connection with the restive eastern Deir el-Zor area was probably a key factor in his decision to defect.

“His family, or clan, may have put pressure on him to resign because of killings” by the army.

They also agreed that Hijab, a Sunni, would not have defected for sectarian reasons.

“He is a Baathist, a secular person, and the government is secular”, although the regime is often portrayed as Alawite, dominated by members of the heterodox Shia Alawite sect.

“Hijab is finished. He can no longer play a [major] political role although he could be given a ministry” in a post-Assad government, said the source.

“The same goes for [Brig Gen Manaf] Tlass”, son of a former defence minister who also defected.

Businessman Issam, who supports the regime but calls for a transition to democracy, quipped: “When Hijab appears on Qatar’s al-Jazeera [satellite channel], then we will know why he left. Hijab will get more money from Qatar than from Syria.”

This was the attitude yesterday of a number of other people in Damascus.

Muhammad, a civil servant, did not express surprise over Hijab’s defection.

“We don’t know what will happen to our country. What will happen to us. He got out with his family while he could. That’s all.”