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Assad’s recent lie: I am the last bastion of secularism

DURING his interview with the British daily, the Sunday Times, embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad attempted to provoke Arabs’ fears and stir their emotions. He claimed that Arabs had two options, either the continuation of his regime or Al-Qaeda rule. He entreated the Western public opinion by saying: “There must be concern about the Middle East because we are the last stronghold of secularism in the region. If there are worries about the Middle East, then the entire world must be worried about its stability.” So now, he alleges his regime has become secular! Intimidating the West by saying “Al-Qaeda” is the alternative to his regime has been the cornerstone of his propaganda strategy since the beginning of the popular revolution. His political and media speeches have revolved around this aspect ever since because he knows the West supports popular movements, like it did in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, but fights it and opposes it if they are extremist religious groups, like it does in Afghanistan and Yemen.
He described his regime as secular out of his desire to bolster the regime’s image. Realistically, his regime has nothing to do with secularism. It is a fascist, oppressive and military regime. It is what he inherited from his father who established this regime following a military coup 40 years ago. Assad’s regime resembles North Korea’s and has nothing to do with secularism. Just because Assad does not have religious mentality does not mean he is secular.
On the contrary, Assad has adopted a sectarian policy as positions and benefits are exclusively granted to those close to him from the Alawite sect. Secularism is based on respecting freedoms. Syria, however, is ruled by a strict security regime. Until a while ago, the regime arrested people if it is found that they own fax machines which can only be owned after the government's approval! Similar strict measures apply to almost everything — from opening commercial shops to concluding financial transactions.
Syria has never been a secular country and its regime has never been liberal despite the elegance of Assad’s wife, Asmaa. It is naive to describe regimes by judging appearances. If we are to do so, we will conclude that Cuba is an Islamic country because of President Castro’s thickly-grown beard!
Tunisia was a security regime and Libya, under Qaddafi’s governance, was like Syria under the Assad family’s rule. These regimes were not religious but security ones. People in these countries complained of suppression and police siege.
There is not a single Arab country whose regime can be described as secular or its society as liberal. Even Lebanon which is the least extremist among Arab countries is ruled by Sunni, Shiite, Christian and Druze religious sects.
As for the besieged Assad, he knows since the beginning of war against terrorism that he has pushed the opposition toward the extremists. He knows that convincing the world that the opposition are groups that resemble “Al-Qaeda” may turn the public opinion against it, not only in the West but even in Arab areas that fight such groups. Half of Assad’s speech during the interview with the daily was addressed to the Western public. He tried to convince them that he was like the West fighting extremism! Assad, however, is a supporter of extremist groups. He is a supporter of the extremist Shiite Iranian regime and the extremist group, Hezbollah. In addition to this support, he has ties with extremist organizations like Fateh Al-Islam which fought Hariri’s government in Lebanon as well as ties with Iraqi Al-Qaeda movements that committed murders and wreaked havoc in Iraq.
Those who study the affairs of our region cannot overlook these contradictions which despite their weirdness, exist. Iran which is an extremist Shiite regime supports Al-Qaeda, the extremist Sunni organization, because they agree on the same goals. Most veteran Al-Qaeda leaders are currently in Iran. Seif Al-Adel, one of Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Iran, has been residing there since the 90s. Osama Bin Laden’s children went to Iran as well after fleeing Afghanistan and they did not leave it until three years ago.
Although he is religious, Syria’s president is the biggest supporter of jihadi groups like the Hamas movement, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement, the Palestinian Fatah Al-Islam in Lebanon, almost all jihadi groups in Iraq and of course the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Assad today is trying to convince the West that he is secular and liberal and that he is fighting Islamic extremism. Those who are aware of politics, however, know Assad’s regime very well. They know it is nothing more than an extension of the extremist political and religious Iranian regime. His father adopted the case of Arab Baath to justify his seizure of power and continuity of sectarian rule. After him, his son sought the company of long-bearded men from supreme leader Khamenei to Hassan Nasrallah. He resorted to holding Islamic jihadi conferences in Damascus.
After the revolution erupted, he now speaks of secularism and claims it!