Monday 6 August 2012
Last Update 6 August 2012 10:51 am
WHEN Bashar Assad inherited the Syrian presidency from his father in 2000, people were optimistic that the young president who studied ophthalmology in Britain and was well versed in the Internet would be different from his father, who was born in a hut in the Qardahah village in the Alawite mountains and grew up in the transition period from the bitter French colonialism to a disturbed freedom.
He grew up under the shadow of the Baathist Party and the military establishment and also during the period of Arab cold war in the 50s and 60s of the last century.
The new president’s address after his swearing in ceremony added to the spirit of optimism because he promised political and economic reforms assuring unprecedented progress in the country. The situation also spurred the rise of many political forums and cultural activities, which was known as the Damascus Spring.
However, later events proved that the new president was not at all different from his father.
He was known for driving with his wife and guests in Damascus streets. Everything else about him remained a mystery. Events after the breakout of the revolution showed that the president who used to dine at restaurants in the capital has no qualms about battering the same capital city with tanks and heavy artillery.
The political system in Syria declined during the time of the young president both domestically and externally. He will go down in history as a leader who did not do anything for the resistance though he claimed otherwise.
Bashar’s first “achievement” in the negative side is that during his term, corruption and misrule deteriorated to such a level that rural people rose against the government for the first time in the modern Syrian history.
The regime’s regulations for rural areas are different from the regulations for city areas. It allowed the life in rural areas to deteriorate until it exploded and triggered the revolution.
His second “achievement” is that he tied Syria to a closed regional alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, which resulted in the country’s alienation from other Arab and regional governments.
His third “achievement” is that he took back the country to regional and international conflicts as it was in the case in the first stage of the Baathist reign. It was then the Baathist strongman Salah Jadid was brought down by his father in a purging movement in 1970. Jadid’s extreme-left stance did not enable Syria to play a powerful role in the regional politics but kept it in a field of conflicts. However, Assad senior rescued the country and brought it back to its rightful role in the region. But the son’s policies catapulted the country back to the situation before his father. The son’s period will be known as the period of ‘infantile resistance or revolt.’
His fourth “achievement” is that he is the first president of Syria who threw the country into the furnace of a devastating civil war. He might have been led to believe that a war such as this would change his luck and enable him to achieve victory. Any civil war is filthy and when Bashar thinks of his victory it is against his own people. It also proves that he is heading for a fall. Under the current Syrian social and political situation the president not only cannot win but he will be the first loser.
What are the options available before him when he has determined to intensify the war? He assumes that the escalation of war will guarantee his plan to crush the opposition and stop the protests. But even after the expiry of one and half years his plan has not succeeded and so it could not be relied upon anymore. The regime has no political way out. What he can do is to continue the military crackdown. It reveals the regime’s preference for terrifying people and erect a wall of fear to protect itself. When that wall of fear collapses only violence follows. Now the wall of fear has tumbled and even the traders who depended on the regime have found that their markets are gradually disappearing. Consequently they do not find any justification to stand by the regime.
Does Bashar think of the option of setting up an Alawite state as a shelter for him and his family? This option suits Iran’s schemes as the tiny and weak state will have to depend on Iran, which will be able to serve its role in the region at least in part with the help of the new state. I do not think that Bashar will take this option because it will reduce the president to the role of a guard to protect Iranian interests in the Mediterranean coast. Does Bashar hope that Iran will make a military intervention to halt the regime’s final fall, which will, in turn, be a blow to Iran’s role in the region? But does Iran have the military potential to undertake the task of defending the regime? Perhaps Iran would try to trigger a crisis in the Arabian Gulf in the hope that it may take off the mounting pressure on Bashar.
On the other hand, any such move to protect Iranian interest in the region will result in a direct confrontation with the interests of a number of countries in the region and outside it. Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, America and Europe will not allow such an Iranian move whatever its cost may be. Perhaps the latest Saudi resolution in the United Nations to speed up the political transition in Syria is a significant indication of this fact. The Saudi move, the first in its history, and the huge support the resolution received in the General Assembly also signifies the Saudi determination to counter the ramifications of a political transition process or the fall of the regime in Syria.
The Iranian policy currently focuses on avoiding a military confrontation with the West especially in the backdrop of the Iranian nuclear programs. So Iran is now up against the dilemma of choosing between its nuclear program or saving the Assad regime.
The Russian stance in the Syrian issue is more critical. But Russians will not jump into a military adventure for Bashar because of its other interests related to the United States and the European Union.
Russia knows that Bashar has no future and his regime is isolated internally and externally. If the regime is to be rescued it must be without Bashar and so Russia is careful to keep a distance between its stance and Bashar. Russia is also confused by the Western policy of letting the Syrian regime bleed itself to its end or explode from inside. If the regime does not die, it will reach a weak stage, which will not call for any large military action that may justify a counter Russian action.
Another question is how Bashar is dealing with the consequences of the blast at the security headquarters in Damascus, in which key security figures were killed. Bashar’s disappearance after the blast confirms that he is not satisfied with the efficiency of more that 16 units for his personal protection. What is the impact of the killing of his sister’s husband Asif Shaukath, the most trusted figure in the regime’s security?
One also wonders will Bashar reconsider his options and alliances that brought upon him the present state of affairs.
Has he also realized that the claim of undertaking the resistance and the suppression of the people are two separate matters that do not mutually agree? Perhaps the destiny has chosen him to be his father’s heir, to be a symbol of peoples’ oppression in Syria and also in the region. People outside Egypt will forget Hosni Mubarak and Zein El Abedin Ben Ali outside Tunis and Ali Saleh outside Yemen but they will remember Muammar Qaddafi for a longer time. But the people inside and outside Syria will remember that Bashar failed to save himself or his people with a political solution. The world will always associate him with the Shabiha, the criminal groups oppressing the people in tandem with the security forces, the massacres, the devastation of cities and towns.