The pace of change in the Middle East is ever so slightly too slow, since the downfall of the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak, to excite the cable-news junkies and headline writers. And yet, the steady attrition of support for governments like Bashar al-Assad’s, in Syria, is a marker of the remarkable changes in the region over the last few months. A report in this week’s New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/28/world/europe/turkey-is-sheltering-antigovernment-syrian-militia.html?hp) reveals that Turkey, once a close ally of Syria’s, is now providing shelter to an anti-Assad militia actively fighting the Syrian government.
The Free Syrian Army’s Turkish contingent consists of only 60 or 70 members, but its significance is outsized. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been actively muscling his way into a leadership role in Middle Eastern politics, tacking away from the region’s old guard and toward its new powers. Erdogan has been reading which way the wind is blowing, and is leaving behind guardians of the dissolving order like Assad. Turkey’s support, or lack thereof, is not enough by itself to shake Syria, but its withdrawal of confidence, and its active support for the nascent Syrian rebel movement, is indication of Assad’s slowly crumbling power.