Bashar al Assad's best bet for leaving Syria before he gets killed by angry citizenry like Col. Muammar Qaddafi looks like exile, but finding somewhere for him to go may be tricky. Reuters reported on Thursday that if he can be persuaded to relinquish power, U.S. and U.N. officials are looking to exile as increasingly the best plan to get Assad out of Damascus and away from the protesters.
Talking (or forcing) Assad into stepping down is sort of a separate issue, but the U.S. insists it'll happen one way or another. And when it does, he's going to need to go somewhere. Three countries have reportedly offered to take him, but the unnamed Western officials who spoke to Reuters wouldn't say which ones. Historically, the path to exile can take some quirky turns, as this Qaddafi-related graphic from Good magazine shows. For now, the question of where to relocate Assad is an open one, so let's take a look at the likeliest candidates:
United Arab Emirates: We'll start with the only option named in the Reuters report. Though it doesn't explain why U.A.E. would want him, the story said "one official said the United Arab Emirates might be among those open to the idea." But the U.A.E., which the Associated Press in February called a "luxury refuge" for "political fugitives in exile" has a history of taking in political exiles, and several have cycled through of late: "The roster of Emirate exiles includes former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the late Pakistani ex-Premier Benazir Bhutto and a turncoat Chechen warlord who was gunned down by a killer with a gold-plated pistol." The Gulf state has been a sharp critic of Assad recently, and was one of the bloc of countries that pulled its people from the Arab League's monitoring mission in Syria, with foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed saying "There is no doubt that the task of the monitors is getting more difficult every day because we do not see a decline in acts of killings." But it might still allow him to join its rank of exiles if only to end the conflict in Syria.
Turkey: Syria's northern neighbor has good reason to want peace south of its border, and its president, Abdullah Gul, reportedly told reporters there this week that he'd consider offering Assad's family asylum if they asked. The Turkish government officially sides with the Syrian opposition, but the fighting has taken such a toll on cross-border commerce, as Reuters reported last week, that Turkey would likely be glad to accept Assad in order to calm things down. Turkey's got some history with other exiled political leaders as well. It was the first stop for Leon Trotsky after he left Russia, and more recently its taken in Iranian dissidents. But before that, Turkey played host to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
United Kingdom: Prime Minister David Cameron might think Assad is a "wretched tyrant," but Assad's wife is British, so that might get him some traction toward a UK exile. Former CIA analyst Bruce Reidel, now with the Brookings institution, also brought up the U.K. as an option in his comments to Reuters. The British tabloids love pointing out Assad's wife Asma's background at Queens College, so there could be some pressure on Cameron to allow the family to settle there. And there's certainly precedent for leaders the U.K. disdained taking up residence there after they leave power: Vladimir Lenin lived in London after he left Russia in 1902, and a memorial to him even stood in the city until it was taken down during the cold war.
Russia: The loudest opponent of anything alluding to force in the United Nations' wrangling over a Syria resolution, Russia might have to put its money where its mouth is and accept Assad as an exile. Though another suggestion of Reidel in the Reuters piece, it seems a long shot. That's because Russia has sunk a lot of diplomatic capital into keeping Assad in power, and it's easy to imagine the country would not be happy with him if he couldn't keep hold of it. As UCLA professor Daniel Treisman explained at CNN Thursday, Syria holds Russia's only Mediterranean naval port, and Russia also sells weapons to the Syrian Army. But since Russia's such a benefactor to Syria, whatever new government takes Assad's place will probably be keen to keep the relationship going. If Russia makes a transition smoother by allowing Assad refuge, it will also gain favor with his replacement. Russia has an interest in keeping Syrian unrest at a minimum, Treisman explained, because it's concerned about that unrest spreading north. Helping to remove the figure causing all that unrest would be one major way to quell it.