WHY NONE BUT BASHAR?
6 March 2014
This article was published, taken off and revamped to make sure its wording cannot be misconstrued and used in a manner that is contrary to its objective. Initially titled “Why Bashar”, the title too had to be reworded to emphasize that the question implies that there is no choice for Syria at the moment but Bashar.
But when we discuss the Syrian leadership, we ought to be honest and address the issues that the anti-Bashar camp uses against him. Questions relating to his rise to power, a rise that was highly controversial among many Syrian scholars and intellectuals who did not accept it lightly, asking and wondering why is it that out of more than 10 million eligible Syrian adults would this man be plucked out of medical school and groomed to be president? In their inner circles, they questioned doesn’t the nation have brain and brawn outside the Assad family? When the late Hafez Assad died with Bashar being only 34 years old, the “outrage” grew even stronger when the constitution had to be amended to allow a 34 year old to assume presidency.
To answer this and many other questions, we may get some clues from the fact that the whole West with some regional countries, including Arab countries, all rose against him. Sometimes we know people by looking at their friends, and sometime by their enemies.
What is his “secret of survival?” is perhaps the most pertinent question now and how will this shape the future?
This week , and precisely on the 8th of March, we mark the 51st anniversary of the Baath Party coup when it assumed power in Syria. That coup came after a series of coups that left Syria highly unstable and with an economy that was in total ruins. It was also followed by another series of minor in-house coups fighting over the leadership of the Baath Party, and it wasn’t until Hafez Al-Assad did his “Corrective Action” and assumed power in 1970 that Syria had the coup to end all coups.
Economic and geopolitical realities dictate that the Assad era will be seen in history as a golden era in many respects. After all, under the Assads and the stability they brought, Syria went through a huge nation-building phase that has seen bold advances in most economic sectors. The infrastructure was boosted by big projects such as the Assad Lake at the Euphrates, a modern network of roads and telecommunications and much more. On the political level Syria bolstered its position as a regional leader and adamantly refused to kowtow to Western pressure by signing a peace treaty with Israel; a treaty that would have given Israel the upper hand. Instead, it worked diligently with the Lebanese Hezbollah and helped end the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.
But not all Syrians saw these realities despite their enormous magnitude and reach. Admittedly, the era had a dark side and some people were fixated on it. Before the war started, Syria was rife with corruption. Certainly, not everyone was corrupt, but corruption existed and was expected all the way from the lowest ranking government clerks to very high-ranking personnel. Bashar however, managed to keep a clean image, and even the staunchest of his critics would say that he was a clean man but surrounded by numerous very bad elements.
This week also marks the 3rd anniversary of the tragic war on Syria. With corruption weighing in and a nation that in the eyes of its enemies had seemingly grown weary from 40 years of one-family-one-party rule, when the war on Syria started, a war that included the least likely allies all the way from Western powers to Wahhabis, not forgetting the 14th March Coalition mosaic of Lebanon, the enemies of Syria were hoping that Syrians were sick and tired of the Assad legacy and that before too long the government would capitulate.
The biggest ace up the sleeve of the conspirators was the sectarian divide. Sunni fundamentalists within and outside Syria regarded the Syrian government as an infidel Alawi (Shiite) state that has gone in cahoots with Iran and one that intends to spread Shiite Islam at the expense of Sunni Islam. Moreover, they had always vowed to revenge their brothers who were eradicated by Hafez back in 1982. But Syria had a huge list of enemies by then ranging from Israel (and its Western allies) to Saudi Arabia to Islamic fundamentalists, not forgetting the Hamlet-like character, Saad Hariri of Lebanon, who accused Syria of killing his father and rounded up all Lebanese Syria haters under a very unlikely holy alliance that included Salafists and Christian right wing militia.
When the war started, some Syrians didn’t know which side of the fence to take. The fundamentalists and regime haters did not need to hesitate. This was the moment they had been waiting for. Some Syrians were taken by the euphoria of the Arab Spring and took to the streets demanding democracy, political plurality and reform; legitimate demands. But when the reality of the nature of the war against Syria surfaced, true patriots knew that they were duped and that all forms of reform would have to wait until the war has been won.
It was not a surprise then that the war mongers had to import and lure fundamentalist fighters from Sunni strongholds, and the more that came in, the more patriotic Syrians realised that the conspiracy was against Syria, all of Syria.
Back to Bashar. As genuine patriots called it a truce with the government and all their qualms were set aside, they had to rally around a figure that represented the country and they found this in Bashar. He was the “devil” they knew. Almost overnight, Basher found himself surrounded by an army of supporters who would bear their chests defending him as the image of their country. On the other hand, the opposition militants scrambled to find a figure head and image to lead them, and they never found one.
Bashar steadfastly galvanized all Syrian patriots including many former political enemies and dissenters. His in-home support was further bolstered by virtue of the international alliances he managed to upgrade during the war, specifically his relationship with Russia and Iran, and of course the strong battle-savvy, battle-hardened Hezbollah.
Bashar with his serene and confident smile came to symbolize the hope of his people as well as the face and voice that united them. Just like General De Gaulle galvanized the French Resistance and became its face and image, Bashar became the image of the Syrian resolve against the war on Syria. The enemies of Syria played a significant role in Bashar’s further spike in popularity. With every call from Hillary Clinton and later on her successor John Kerry, with every call of McCain, Erdogan, Mursi, King Abdallah, the Emir of Qatar, Netanyahu, Perez, all of whom are known enemies of Syria, with every call from each of them for Assad to step down, Assad gained thousands of more supporter in Syria.
From that point onwards, Bashar became the idol because he represented unity and resolve. Any attack on him became tantamount to an attack on Syrian unity and resolve. Bashar’s face became no longer his, his person is no longer his own, he is now public property; he became the face of Syria that Syrians genuinely wanted to post on their walls and shop fronts because they sincerely want to, not to appease the Mokhabarat (Secret Service) as some might have done in the past 40 years before the war.
When the war is over and Syria wins, his future and Syria’s future will be in his own hands. De Gaulle was eventually ousted in a referendum in 1968 and in between 1945 and 1968 he was the top man at the Élysée for quite a while during which he instituted many reforms including the Fifth Republic. In the upcoming Syrian presidential elections, Bashar will win with an overwhelming majority, people will head to the election booths with a clear vision as to why they are voting .
Enemies and critics Bashar and his father have always expressed doubts and cynicism about the results of previous elections, but in the upcoming elections, Bashar’s win will be only a reflection of what was forged by resolve, perseverance, and blood. He will probably get something like 70% or even more, a figure that Bashar will remember and take to bed with him every time he goes to sleep. How many democratically elected leaders in the world can boast such a result?
Genuine Syrians who carried the banner until they fell and paid for it with their blood, their loved ones, their wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, they will all be euphoric when the last terrorist has been stopped in his tracks. But after the dust has settled and the guns have gone silent, they will want what is owed to them and what their beloved ones spilt their blood for. They will expect reform. They will expect an end to corruption. They will expect cronies to be stopped and held accountable. They will want to keep the portraits of Bashar in their hearts and not only on their shop fronts. The future of Syria therefore, at least the short term future, is pretty much in his hands.
So why Bashar or why none but Bashar, we may ask
Love him or hate him, he is a continuation of a political dynasty that was launched by his father over 40 years ago; a legacy that has shaped Syria’s recent history, a presidency that has withstood the war and rose victorious, and the man who will decide the future of the country, at least in the short term. No other man in Syria can rival this position and role let alone replace him. Is it still a wonder why he was plucked to become President?
For some years to come, all eyes will be on this gallant man, the son of the wisest and most successful nation-builder in the Arab World.