The Lebanese seem to be keeping mum after Bashar al-Assad’s speech this afternoon. Sure, there are no doubt plenty of opinions to go around, but why bring unnecessary attention to Lebanon’s own problems? So far, the unrest in Syria has given the Lebanese some much-needed breathing room, and no one wants to wave any red flags right now.
As for the Syrians, there must be someone—somewhere—in Syria who was deeply moved by the speech—but it appears that they are not among those gathered before the president in the national assembly. The scene unfolding there on live TV for all the world to watch is like a parody of Arab politics—canned applause, with Bedouins spontaneously rising to their feet to declaim poems to Syria and their great leader as Assad promises stalwart resistance against the Zionist enemy that is trying to destroy the Arab nation.
But the real problem, at least for the regime, is that Assad won’t be able to pull it off. If he is trying to show he’s not in the least concerned by the increasingly deadly demonstrations that have put his regime on edge, his nervous laughter is having the reverse effect. The more he cackles like a gangly schoolboy, the more anxious Syrian officials get. Their lives are on the line and, by the looks on their faces, they’re just starting to realize that Assad won’t be able to save them.
Compare this performance to Hosni Mubarak’s second-to-last speech—a model of Arab strongman oratory—when the leader argued he was still in control, even as Egypt was going up in flames around him. When Mubarak said he was going to die in his home country, he turned many of his compatriots remorseful that they had ever treated a hero of the 1973 war like a dog. And yet, within a week and a half, Mubarak was gone. If Assad’s performance was any indication, the Syrian regime is on its last leg—but chances are he won’t walk away like Mubarak did. Among other things, this leader of an Alaaite regime, which has targeted its own Sunni community, as well as other Sunni figures around the region (like Lebanon’s late former prime minister Rafiq Hariri), may have very few places left where he can escape into exile. It's doubtful right now the Saudis would take him, as they did Tunisia's Zein Abdine Ben Ali, but there’s always Iran—as long as that country can maintain its stability.