Assad’s desperate attempt to revive reputation destined to fail
Many people adopt new year’s resolutions. They usually involve quitting smoking, losing weight, spending more time with family or just being more positive. However, for Bashar Assad, his resolution seems to be to rebrand himself as a man of peace.
As moronic as this might look, pro-regime university professors and retired military officers have recently been inundating Syrian TV screens with references to Assad being a man of peace. However, it was this “man of peace” who tore Syria into pieces and plunged the country into a long and brutal conflict, as he refused to gracefully leave the scene in order to prevent bloodshed like the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did. The half a million dead, the children killed by poisonous Sarin gas, and the half of the population that became either refugees or internally displaced do not seem to bother Assad, who does not take any responsibility for the consequences of the war.
To add to the absurdity of the situation, local Syrian newspapers last month announced the launch of a “national event” organized by a Syrian voyager. The event will result in the “the longest love letter in the world” to “first man of peace” Assad. The letter will be written on a 2,000-meter roll of fabric and transported by a carriage accompanied by 14 female student athletes. The convoy will depart from the presidential palace at Mount Qasioun and is supposed to tour the different Syrian provinces before returning to Damascus to deliver the letter to Assad. The aim is to gather 2.5 million signatures. One might think it cannot get any cheesier than this, but it does: The organizer hopes the scheme will break the Guinness World Record for the longest love letter. This would make a nice addition to the records Assad has previously broken for criminality and terror. The event is part of Assad’s campaign for the April 2021 pre-decided presidential pseudo-election.
In September 2019, Assad agreed to the formation of a constitutional committee that is supposed to decide on a new constitution and end the war in Syria. However, so far the committee has not been able to achieve much due to the regime’s continuous maneuvers to block any serious resolutions. After more than a year of discussions with the regime, it is very obvious that the only objective of Assad and his cronies is to waste time while giving the international community the impression that he is ready to make concessions in order to advance the well-being of Syria. Assad is using the constitutional committee to appease the international community: He has no intention of making any concessions or leaving power at any point in time.
It might be a mere coincidence, but at the same time that the “love letter” was announced in Syrian newspapers, the opposition was provoked by the use of the term “restorative justice” — rather than “transitional justice” — by UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. Pedersen later clarified that it was a translation error after he faced an outcry from the opposition, which insisted that Assad should be held accountable for his crimes. However, was it an unintended error or was it a poison pill inserted by the regime delegation with the aim of killing the idea of a political transition and, with it, Assad’s departure? The so-called love letter and this rebranding could be another Assad gimmick to bluff the international community and show that he is willing to make peace with people he has been slaughtering for years.
Meanwhile, a member of the opposition, Ayman Abdel Nour, the president of US-based nongovernmental organization Syrian Christians for Peace, said in his weekly podcast that Assad might be using the term “man of peace” to send signals to Israel. This is because normalization with Israel and a departure from the “resistance axis” could be a way for Assad to reinvent himself as a leader the world and the region can live with. In December, an Israeli analyst and former security official also said that Tel Aviv could live with Assad if he broke off from Iran and entered the Gulf fold. However, these scenarios are just speculation.
Arab countries know deep in their hearts that the Syrian president is treacherous and cannot be trusted.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
Despite the fact that some Arab countries see Assad as a dam against Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they know deep in their hearts that the Syrian president is treacherous and cannot be trusted. They also know that it would be very difficult for him to break free from Iran, or even to merely contain it inside Syria. Despite several overtures by Gulf countries, Assad has not moved one inch away from Iran; plus he has so much blood on his hands that dealing with him would only result in a liability.
Despite the support and endorsements Assad gets from Iran, Russia, China and some Arab countries, the world is quite united against him. The US’ Caesar Act has been ratified by Congress and more sanctions are being imposed on his wife Asma and her immediate family to make sure that Assad has no space to breathe. As waning stars usually do — in a desperate attempt to revive what is left of their glory — Assad is attempting to reinvent himself. However, he should realize that he will not be able to recreate an audience for himself in order to renew his legitimacy on the international scene, and that no one will buy into the upcoming bogus elections.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.