Syria’s prime minister, Riyad Hijab, defected on Monday, becoming the latest among high-profile politicians and leaders to abandon the besieged regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution,” the former prime minister said in a written statement read by a Syrian opposition official on Al Jazeera.
Islamic analysts described Hijab’s defect as a significant symbolic blow for al-Assad’s regime, but also that the former prime minister was only appointed a few months ago. “In short, this isn’t going to bring a lot of insight into what Assad is thinking or doing. It is certainly embarrassing and does some damage to regime,” said David Hartwell, a senior analyst of Islamic Affairs at Jane’s. “But all indications are that Hijab was probably kept in the dark. This wasn’t a man who had Assad’s ear. Assad appointed him just a few months ago. He was essentially just another Cabinet member without much power at all.” One of Syria’s most senior diplomats, Nawaf al-Fares, ambassador to Iraq, defected as he publicly embraced his country’s uprising and called for a foreign military intervention. Also on Monday, Anadolu, a Turkish news agency, reported Syria’s first man in space, astronaut Mohammad Ahmad Faris, who flew on a 1987 Soviet space mission, declared his support for the opposition as he crossed into Turkey last weekend.