Beirut — Syria’s deputy oil minister appeared tense as he looked at the camera and announced in a video that he has defected from President Bashar Assad’s regime, acknowledging he expects government forces to “burn my home” and “persecute my family.”
Abdo Husameddine, a 58-year-old father of four, on Thursday became the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition, and he urged his countrymen to “abandon this sinking ship” as the nation spirals toward civil war.
In the YouTube video, Husameddine seemed to address Assad directly, accusing him of vast crimes in the past year as government forces pummel the opposition with tanks and snipers. The U.N. estimates 7,500 people have been killed since the uprising began.
“You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow and sadness, denied them their basic rights to life and humanity and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss,” said Husameddine, wearing a dark suit and tie. He appeared to be reading from a script, casting his eyes down to find the words.
“I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime,” he said. “I declare that I am joining the revolution of the dignified people.”
The authenticity of the video could not be verified, and he did not disclose his location. Damascus did not comment on the video. According to a resume posted on the website of Syrian Oil and Gas News, Husameddine is married with four children, fluent in English and French, and studied petroleum engineering at al-Baath University. He was appointed by Assad in 2009.
Assad’s regime has suffered a steady stream of low-level army defectors, who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the thousands.
Brig. Gen. Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheik, who fled to Turkey in January, was the highest ranking officer to bolt. In late August, Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of the central city of Hama, appeared in a video announcing he had defected.
Authorities reported he had been kidnapped and said he was being kept against his will by gunmen. He has not been heard from since.
Civilian officials, like Husameddine, have remained largely loyal — making his announcement noteworthy.
Open dissent is dangerous in Syria, a country that crushed any rumblings of defiance even before the popular revolt started to threaten the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty. The security forces, which are the backbone of the regime and drive the culture of fear and paranoia, will protect the leadership at all costs.
The cohesion is built into the very structure of the government. Assad, and his father who ruled before him, filled key military posts in the overwhelmingly Sunni country with members of their minority Alawite sect, ensuring loyalty by melding the fate of the army and the regime.