COMPARE the political scene in America to the scene in Syria. One might suggest that such a comparison is not fair due to the large differences between the two countries that are in favor of the United States.
While this is true, the objection in itself is not. Scientifically, a comparison must be made between two models, each of which provides the best possible representation of a phenomenon, regime, social status, political standing or otherwise. Comparing the two models can provide us with closer and better understanding of the nature of the phenomenon or the regimes being represented.
America is an example of the Western capitalist model, which consists of a presidential system and is based on democracy and constitutional reference. On the other hand, Syria represents, particularly in its political system, an autocratic or despotic model in which security measures dominate the state system.
In America, a capitalist economic ideology and a liberal political ideology dominate the institutions of the state and society. In Syria, however, state institutions are not dominated or bound by any ideology, be it Arab nationalist ideology, Islamic ideology, or socialist ideology; rather, hegemony exists through the security institutions. One may belong to any ideology in Syria, but must never consider applying this ideology for political purposes that might collide with the security institutions, or in a manner that contradicts the legacy that there is no such thing as a “former president.”
This is the pluralism that Assad has been referring to a lot these days. In America, the law has a respectful and prestigious standing. There might be injustice and lack of equality, but this is balanced by the opportunity to gain something in life: at university, at research centers, in the stock market, in real estate, in industry, and in trade. There exists a chance to participate in elections, from students' elections to the presidential election. These opportunities are available equally for all, but there might not be equality in others.
In Syria, on the other hand, there is a constitution and law, but respect and prestige exist mainly for the security institutions and for the president who depends on them. Therefore, there are no chances or opportunities for anyone, except for those who are afraid of the security establishment and are on board the president’s train.
Even Vice President Farouk Al-Shara, who, although did not leave the train, suggested concern about the path of the train that is facing popular revolt — a suggestion that sparked suspicion about his potential intentions to leave the train.
For that he disappeared somewhere along this train. Currently no one has information about his status. Evidently, even the position of vice president in the Syrian model has no prestige or respect, and more importantly, is not protected. It must be noted for sake of fairness, however, that although the Syrian regime is a classic example of tyranny, it is not among Arab models an exceptional or abnormal regime. It is just a model that involves the worst and the most awful forms of despotism and repression.
Both in Syria and the United States, the presidents belong to the minority. US President Barack Obama is a black man of African descent, and therefore, belongs to an ethnic minority. In the case of Syria, we can say that Assad is white and belongs to a religious minority. The former came to power through democratic elections in 2008, and was re-elected last week for the last time, while the latter came to power through inheritance from his father and under the cover of the security establishment of the regime. His father came to power more than 40 years ago by a military coup, which he named “The Corrective Movement.” Oddly and coincidentally, in addition to both Obama and Assad belonging to the minority among their respective societies, there is a historical background that is relevant to the access of both to governance.
The historical background of the arrival of Obama to the White House is represented by the system of slavery, which controlled black Americans until the second half of the 19th century. Despite the declaration of President Abraham Lincoln to abolish slavery in 1863, and the legal amendments that allowed blacks to run for elections at various levels, discrimination against blacks continued in the American society until the second half of the 20th century.
During this period, there were movements for civil rights, court cases and pressure groups for and against these movements that imposed pressure on legislative authority. There were also cases of repression and abuse against the blacks, as well as executions and assassinations, the most famous of which was the assassination of the famous leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, in 1968.
In this historical background, specifically in 1857, the rights of Dred Scott, the black slave who was claiming his freedom from slavery, was rejected by the US Supreme Court because he was not considered a human being in the eyes of the court, but rather an owned commodity, which prevented him from being covered by the human right to freedom enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. According to the Constitution, the president nominates the members of the Supreme Court. Today, the very court that rejected the rights to freedom for Scott more than 150 years ago finds itself in front of another black American named Obama, who occupies the White House and has the right to nominate new court members during his presidential term, to replace court members who will retire because of age or illness.
In light of this background, there is a clear indication that the re-election of Obama for the second time last week reflects the size of the shift that American society has experienced between the end of the Civil War and now. The New York Times has reported that a demographic shift has occurred in American society, and that the Republican Party is paying for it. It provides an example of “Prince Williams Country” in the state of Virginia, which, until recently, was predominantly white and Republican candidates were always gaining its votes to win the state. Last Tuesday, however, Obama won Virginia by up to 15 percent more than Mitt Romney. Why? Because according to the newspaper, Prince Williams County transformed into a mixed urban district and ranks seventh among the districts with the highest income level in America. Moreover, some conservatives in the Republican Party suggest that whites are now a minority among Americans, and that Obama’s victory over Romney is because of this demographic shift. Obama won a majority of the white votes under the age of 40, and thus the demographic shift reflects great cultural and political shifts within the American community.
When we return to the Syrian model under the current regime, we find that the historical background of the inheritance process that installed the current president dates back to more than 1500 years.
Could it be that there is a relationship between the two cases? We will leave the question for now. In the American model, the political system succeeded after more than 150 years in correcting itself. It corrected regulations and laws beyond that dark historical background. Indeed, after the black citizen and his humanity was not recognized, here he is winning the presidency for the second time. In the Syrian model, the political system reproduces the same mechanism of transfer of power that was in place more than 1,500 years ago. That is exactly the option that was put in place by the late Syrian President Hafez Assad to bequeath power to one of his sons, within a republican regime that does not recognize the inheritance.
Despite the distance of time and a big difference between the two men, as well as the differences in the circumstances, communities, and the regional and international environment, it seems as though Hafez Assad was influenced by Muawiyah, who also did the same thing in the Levant when he decided to recommend the succession of his son Yazid after him.
In the American model, the political system has gone beyond the slavery stage after a century and a half, and was able to proceed to a completely different stage, while in the Syrian model, the political system has gone back to more than 15 centuries. In other words, the history of the American model moves forward, while in the Syrian model, it is either stagnant or going backwards.
Racism was the flaw of the American political system, and though it got rid of it legally, its effects remained in the culture of the community. The flaw of the Syrian political system is tyranny, and the heavy historical legacy that encourages it. Therefore, the current regime has come to entrench the worst forms of this legacy, and has added the sectarianism as the basis for its local and regional alliances.
According to American historian, Howard Zen, the system of slavery in his country was rooted in the community, making the only way to get rid of it through a revolution by the slaves, or through civil war.
Thus, the American Civil War of 1861-1865 was the beginning of the long road toward freedom of the American society before the freedom of slaves. What is happening in Syria now is something similar to what happened in America, but is different in its depth. The American Civil War is a war of the north against the south to create a capitalist system, and aimed to eliminate slavery as a barrier to this system. In Syria, there is a popular revolt against a regime that adheres to the sectarianism and the alliance of minorities to stay in power. In his last meeting with “Russia Today” TV, Assad said his regime is the last resort for secularism in the region, and this is an attempt to entice the West to stay impartial to the conflict. But what is secular about the rule of a family that is covered by sectarianism, is sheltered by security institutions, stifles freedoms, and adheres to closed sectarian alliances at home and in the region?
— Courtesy of Al-Hayat newspaper