Last year, I caught a television program about the situation in Syria that included interviews with ex-patriot Syrians. One had an interesting analysis of President Bashar al Assad’s apparent state of denial over the realities of the revolution. He believes that Bashar is a Momma’s Boy, and that Momma al Assad is calling the shots. In many ways, it makes perfect sense. Bashar was not supposed to be President, his older brother Basel was. Bashar was trained as an eye doctor and surgeon. But Basel died in a car accident in 1994, and Bashar was pushed into becoming his father’s heir. Bashar has a sister, but women are not favored children in powerful families of any kind except in terms of who they can be married to. His younger brother Majid had mental health issues and Maher is reportedly a shade on the psychotic side and a perfect leader of the secret police. But Bashar was a scholar, a doctor, a perfect favorite child for a mother. Aniseh Makhluf al Assad has allegedly made sure that her daughter-in-law Asma has little influence in the palace and over her own husband. Everything that has come out of Bashar in the past two years has been pure, unadulterated, unmodernized Daddy, channeled from beyond the grave by Mommy Dearest.
From the beginning, Bashar has believed that there is no popular revolt, but an infiltration of foreign terrorists, just as there were in 1983 against his father. He believes in the superiority of the Alawite clan and their right to rule. He believes in his father’s dream of pan-Arabism as a counter to pan-Islam, a dream that died with Hafez, after being on life-support after the death of Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt. Even the Saudi Royals, who control the seat of Arab culture and ethnicity, do not now and never have supported pan-Arabism. In spite of what most viewed as “reformist” tendencies, Bashar has never really stood up for reform in Syria, not when that reform would have undercut the power of the Alawites. His reforms revolved around thwarting the growing the influence of Islamism in Syria, little things like banning head scarves in Syrian universities.
No one was surprised when Bashar’s “developments” speech on Sunday was just more of the same – we will have a peace conference (been there, done that last year), we will have a new constitution (ditto), and we are fighting for the security of Syria against foreign invaders who are loyal to the West. Seriously? He seriously believes that the West supports the Islamist terrorists who have infiltrated Syria? How isolated from the real world does any man have to be to believe that? Sorry, stupid question. All he would have to do is read right wing extremist websites from America, like Glenn Beck’s, or the comment streams on news sites where loonies accuse the President of being a radical Muslim who supports the restoration of the Caliphate and imposition of Sharia in America, when not accusing him of being a fascist/communist/Marxist/Maoist-gay-lover-of-Fidel-and-Hitler-wannabe who spends billions of taxpayer dollars on the neverending vacations of his mooching Chewbacca of a wife. Like I said, the loonie contingent. (With apologies to loons and Canada.)
So, here we are on Monday, after the BIG SPEECH, and nothing has changed. The bombs are still falling out of airplanes onto civilians, the rebels are still fighting the army, no one is holding their breath waiting for the announcement of the peace conference…nothing has changed and nothing will. Until someone slaps some sense into Bashar, it will not change. He will continue to believe that he is defending his countrymen instead of raining death on them. He will continue to believe that he stands against the forces of the West. He will continue to believe he is right, until the rebels storm the palace.
I have been supportive of the rebellion from the beginning, but there are a couple of things about the current situation that scare me. When released from the constraints of the Hussein regime, the Iraqi Shia went on a rampage of revenge against the Sunni who had been Hussein’s favored people. I fear the same will happen in Syria, with the Alawites paying for the actions of the al Assad family. It would be like the French Revolutionaries who extracted their revenge on the servants of the aristocrats who lived better lives because they worked for the rich, or America’s unemployed going on a killing spree against the families of the rich who have so benefitted from the policies of the Repubicans. It’s punishing the beneficiaries for the actions of the perpetrators.
And I have nightmares about the way some ancient Roman regime changes were done. Families were slaughtered, not just emperors. Wives, sisters and mothers were gang raped before having their throats slit, babies in their cradles were sliced in half by swords, children were hacked to pieces. Bashar and Asma al Assad have three young children, all under the age of 11. Asma has been way too fond of the perks of being the wife of a very wealthy President (remember those shoes?), but she had been, until the start of the revolution, a popular First Lady, one who sincerely cared about people. They used to walk the streets and markets of Damascus with little security. Asma and the children do not deserve to be put to death when Bashar falls. There is little chance of her escaping with the children as Moammar Qaddafi’s non-combatant family members did. The lock-down on travel from Syria is too tight. But England should allow her to come home when it’s all over, should make that offer now, so that the rebels know she will leave and not return with her children.
The revolution goes on. There are too many foreign fighters in Syria right now, and the opposition leaders are aware of the dangers. The humanitarian crisis is extreme. The cross-border incursions by the Syrian forces have been so numerous that the United States has sent advisors and materials to Jordan, helped Turkey increase its border defenses and just sent 200 armored vehicles to Lebanon. That last one is a jaw-dropper. Lebanon has not been our ally in the past. They have been dominated by Syria. But that has changed with the deaths of Lebanese citizens as the Syrian army chased refugees across the border.
The announcement of a special cabinet meeting to address President al Assad’s peace initiative was met with a giant yawn by the opposition and practically every government in the rational world. It seems to us we’ve heard this song before…