How Bashar al-Assad Destroyed a Dynasty

Article Summary
Bashar al-Assad’s biggest error was in abandoning his father's policies and favoring a security solution over coexistence in Syria, says Michel Kilo in a review of the missteps leading up to the current crisis.

One of the “feats” that Bashar al-Assad has accomplished is that he turned against the equations that brought his late father, Hafez, to power in 1970.

Assad’s father lived by the advice: Do not go against the foreign forces that established the regional system following the defeat of 1967 in general, and that of 1970 in particular. These forces have protected the regional governments, particularly your own regime. Do not bring about any change to the inside, so that the building that I constructed does not collapse and so that changes do not gradually or all at once overthrow or dismantle this building.

Assad the son rose to power with the endorsement of the same international and external actors that brought his father to power. This is evidenced by two statements that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made after Assad assumed the presidency, following a vote by the ridiculous farce that the regime calls the People’s Assembly.

In the first statement, Mubarak expressed his concern regarding Syria. Yet in the second, he said that he is reassured of the new president’s rule. The second statement followed United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s visit to Damascus, announcing that she was satisfied with the fact that Assad had inherited power from his father.

It didn’t take former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam long to blame the new president for two mistakes, which he specified in statements announcing his defection from the regime.

The two mistakes are the following: First, he accused Assad of going against international order, particularly that of the West, which blessed and encouraged the so-called “Corrective Movement” in 1970, and guaranteed the regional system following the disaster of the 1967 War. This defeat could have caused the quick collapse of several Arab countries.

Secondly, according to Khaddam, Assad refrained from conducting internal reforms that his father had intended to make.

These two mistakes were the first sin that Assad the son involved himself and his regime in. In fact, he refused proposals from committees for the revival of civil society concerning balancing the US presence in the region.

These proposals called for making changes that would reform the situation of the Syrians and present them as a society in harmony with its regime, to tilt the balance. In this way, the community will go back to politics and politics will return to the community for the first time since March 8, 1963, allowing Syria to face the world as a unified country.

The president rejected this national vision and replaced it with an alliance with Iran. He made Iran the guarantor of his security and future and burdened Syria with many Iranian problems that have nothing to do with Syria. These problems include Tehran's nuclear issue and the consequences of the international conflict with Iran, including the detrimental effects that international positions have had on the region, particularly Syria.

Syria’s president began speaking the language of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declaring that the West has always been against Arabs. This is happening despite the fact that the Baath Party had promised the people it would establish a state with Western style and orientation at the beginning of the Baathist coup d’état.

On the one hand, Bashar violated the meaning and historical identity of his party with his statements and triggered confusion within the authorities. This confusion reached the authorities’ positions that seemed to no longer be consistent.

He contradicted reality, not only because Syria is not an Islamic Republic, but also because its ties with Iran forced the regime to turn its back on Arabs and to place itself in a confrontation with them. Iran has failed to earn the support of any Arab country, with the exception of the Assad regime — a regime that claimed to be the first to endorse Arabism.

This has added an additional load to Damascus’ burden, which exhausted the people and pushed them to be upset with the policy of their president. This is especially true given that Assad squandered his remaining internal cards by making economic choices that destroyed the peasant class.

This class represents the supporters of the Syrian regime. As soon as this class joined the revolution in the country — which has been ongoing for nearly two years — their participation became a crucial development that seriously threatens the existence and future of the Syrian regime.

It is no wonder that the regime misused several internal cards that Assad the father left to his son, and resorted to a security option that abolished politics, which is represented by consensus, dialogue and good management.

The regime involved the soul of the authority, which consists of its repressive institutions and army — along with the available paramilitary forces — in a battle against the people. Therefore, its violence will inevitably be unprecedented in the history of Syria and ravage the society and the state to the extent of undermining them.

While in 1982, the father’s violent security solution was limited to the city of Hama, Aleppo received a relatively limited share.

In contrast, once the demands for reform were made in the city of Daraa in the south of Syria, the son dismissed any internal efforts for reconciliation and raided the people using any available violence, turning Syria into a devastated country.

He has also turned its citizens into displaced, dead, wounded, wanted, disappeared, detained or missing persons, where the strife is undermining their security and safety and causing the death of additional people on a daily basis.

In this context, I will not say what is already known about the social contract that founded the modern state, whose sole content is the individual citizen’s abandonment of their right to use violence, to the benefit of the state. The latter would in turn ensure their security, monopolize violence and remove it from the public domain, which would be solely run through non-political methods: peaceful and consensual ones.

Here, with regard to the example of Syrian authoritarianism, violence replaced politics and ruled it out as a tool to settle the internal conflict. It turned one of its main principles, which is dialogue, into a way to lure the opposition to positions where it would cover up for its security policies and align with its security solution.

This caused a wide and deep rift between the ruling class and the ruled, without succeeding in protecting the authority, which is being subjected to fragmentation and whose sphere of influence on the country is decreasing.

After wasting its political card, the regime wasted the card of national unity, which it played in a manner that contradicts its unifying characteristic.

Rather, it turned it into a card of sedition and sectarianism, which cannot possibly produce any success for the regime or the societal and political entity of Syria. Using this card wasted another that would have brought the conflicting parties closer. It is the card of national reconciliation, which has become an impossibility, even if the regime wins and defeats the people.

I am surprised with the position of the regime supporters. They do not ask themselves a fundamental question about the future of the relationship between them and the side that assaulted them.

As a result of the violence, hundreds of thousands of Syrians will lose many loved ones and most of their properties, and large numbers of them will become homeless inside and outside their country.

When the storm passes, there will no longer be a language of dialogue or coexistence between them and the majority of their fellow citizens. Attempts by the regime to regain the approval of the daughters and sons of society, including the ones it has attempted to kill and whose crops and livestock it has eradicated, will inevitably fail.

Which schools, I wonder, will the regime’s men send their children to? At which restaurants will they eat? Which neighborhoods will they live in? With whom and which roads will they take to travel? In which government departments will they work? Which factories and farms will they run, and which language will they use to speak with their staff or the ones sharing their accommodation, their travels, food and drink? At which hospitals will they be treated?

Who will bridge the gap between the authority and the people? How long will that take and how much will it cost?

The regime has squandered the card of co-existence with its people and manipulated it within society. It has laid out the foundation for an endless crisis, which will only worsen over time until the next revolution breaks out, that is if we were to assume that the current one will not succeed.

However, several mounting signs indicate that it has become impossible to defeat the Syrian revolution in light of the strategic option adopted and applied by the regime, which says: “I either rule you or kill you.”

During this difficult situation where the regime has squandered its numerous internal political cards, the ruling class in Syria could not find a way out of the crisis it got itself into except by expanding the crisis both internally and externally, and moving it to neighboring countries. The regime seems to be determined to squander its external cards by adopting the slogan of a president who is dictated by his fears: “If I am to go, no one will replace [the regime] and everyone will go with me.”

The regime drove itself to an impasse, and seems to have begun to realize its depth and enormity and the fatal consequences that will result from it. Thus, the regime took rushed and reckless foreign policy decisions, which were repeatedly expressed by President Assad, who has threatened to ignite the whole region by transferring the armed and violent conflict to it.

Does the regime possess the sufficient means to carry out its plans and threats? Can its army fight a regional war or start a conflict against the armies of neighboring countries, while it has failed over nearly two years to conquer a people which was unarmed at the beginning of its demonstrations and today only possesses light individual weapons in most cases and areas?

Will intimidation against neighbors work after it has failed against the people? Does the policy of escaping forward reflect power, or confusion and weaknesses? Is it a policy resulting from conscious or reckless options? How long can the regime survive in the face of armies that possess heavy weaponry?

The regime’s army — which is tired, exhausted and depleted — will find it difficult to assemble its troops that are deployed across Syria, because this means that the areas it occupies would fall into the hands of the revolution.

At the same time, it is difficult for the Syrian army to remain deployed in the same areas because this means that the armies of neighboring countries would invade Syria without resistance.

Who said that the war would be long and exhausting? What would happen if the Turkish army headed to Qardaha and occupied it within a few hours?

The Syrian president and his entourage have wasted their internal cards, and he is about to waste very important and effective cards left behind by the greatest politician in Syrian history: his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, the founder of the regime that his son is assassinating through his fatal options.

These options did not only fail, but have had severe backlash on him and his regime.

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Found in: syrian crackdown, syrian, hafez al-assad, damascus, bashar al-assad, aleppo clashes, aleppo
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