On Aug. 18, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama released a written statement that declared: "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside." It was his first explicit call for the Syrian leader to resign -- but today, 452 days later, Bashar al-Assad is still in power. As he told Russian TV last week, "I am Syrian; I was made in Syria. I have to live in Syria and die in Syria."
Even as what was initially a peaceful uprising evolved into a full-fledged armed rebellion, the Assad regime has proved stubbornly resilient. It is still contesting every urban center in the country. While the rebels have succeeded in liberating territories in Syria's northern provinces, they are still not in control of one major Syrian city. Unlike in other Arab countries, where autocrats were brought down by citizen uprisings, the Assad regime shows no signs of fading into oblivion soon.
Unlike in Libya, the competing interests of regional and international players has so far prevented outside military intervention. But the regime's strength and the anti-Assad forces' divisions have played an important role in discouraging direct foreign involvement. Here are four reasons Assad remains in power.
1. The regime's inner sanctum has not cracked. In July, Assad's inner circle was dealt a serious blow when a bomb killed four of its members -- including Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat and Defense Minister Daoud Rajiha. But Assad and his coterie of senior advisors recovered quickly from this blow, appointing replacements to the officials killed in the blast.
According to people close to regime circles, the July bombing was the first time since the start of the uprising when the Assad regime felt under threat. Other setbacks, such as the defections of Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab and Assad's friend and former Republican Guard commander Manaf Tlass, did not present a serious threat to the regime. By the time they defected, both were marginal figures in the regime's inner core.
As Assad declared in an August interview, these defections are a form of "self-cleansing" for the regime, ridding it of disloyal elements. The regime's core is now reduced to Assad family members and trusted Alawite security officials, some of whom are holdovers from the reign of Assad's father, Hafez. This core appears to consist of more hawkish figures who see the struggle in existential terms. As the inner circle gets smaller, the regime's response only becomes more determined and bloodier.
As Assad articulated in his Russian TV interview, foreign military intervention is unlikely because it will be too costly to the international community. If that holds true, the regime is calculating that it can hold on to power and deny the armed opposition the ability to deliver tangible results on the ground -- making it increasingly likely the rebels will lose steam. Russia's and Iran's reliable support reinforces this conviction.