Syria’s prime minister, Riyad Hijab, defected today, as the BBC reports:
Mr Hijab was appointed less than two months ago and his departure is the highest-profile defection since the uprising began in March 2011. State-run TV said he had been sacked.
Riad Hijab, who is said to have fled with his family, is a Sunni Muslim from the Deir al-Zour area of eastern Syria which has been caught up in the revolt.
Early reports said Mr Hijab had defected to Jordan, but Jordanian state TV later denied this. By Monday afternoon, Mr Hijab’s whereabouts were still unknown. . .
“I address you today at this grave hour where the country is living under the brunt of genocide and barbarian brutal killing against unarmed people who are simply demanding freedom and a dignified life,” ran Mr Hijab’s statement read by his spokesman. “Today I declare… that I have defected from the terrorist, murderous regime and [am] joining the holy revolution. And I declare that from today I am a soldier of this holy revolution.”
Mr el-Etri said the defection had been arranged with the Free Syrian Army months before. . . . Mr Hijab is the first Syrian cabinet minister to defect.
Notably, Hijab personally is far from a key member of the Syrian state, as his short tenure, Sunni background, and relatively unimpressive prior career (joined the Baath party in 1998, became governor of a province in 2008) indicate; the real influence and importance of Syrian officials, even more so than in other Arab presidential-security states, lies below the surface. But obviously, the defection of the nominally second-most-important government official in Syria shouldn’t be underrated.
Also this morning, rebels successfully attacked the Syrian state-television headquarters in Damascus, detonating a bomb on the third floor of the building. The station wasn’t knocked off the air, and apparently no employees were killed, but it’s a notable example of the rebels’ ability to strike at key state institutions.