Understanding Asma’s husband

The Arab awakening and Syrian exceptionalism by Alastair Crooke | The Middle East Channel

In Western culture, a profound crisis demands due seriousness: A graven-faced president would sit behind an imposing desk, with the symbolic tokens of authority, and with an array of flags artfully painting the gravitas of the moment. But here was President Assad jocularly and informally addressing parliament, occasionally chuckling at his own jokes — and even engaging in lighthearted banter with some quite rowdy members of his audience. How “unpresidential,” a Western politician might murmur to himself at such a key moment, and “so lacking in specifics on reform.”

But this was its point: Assad’s style was intentionally informal. It spoke to a different image than a stereotype: it was of a young leader, one who was not ossified by time and convention. It was a broad hint to a domestic audience, accustomed to nuance, that the President really does believe in reform. This conviction about Assad — that he is not old guard — is widely held in Syria, even by many of those who have been demonstrating in the streets. Most Syrians do believe that the President did not order the security forces to use live fire, but forbade it. This is the difference between Syria and, say, Egypt. There, everyone knew Mubarak would never, ever reform. Most Syrians however believe that Assad instinctively is reformist.

Assad’s address was, to an extent, an audacious one — carefully tilted toward the particular Syrian context, rather than to the general context of (other) Arab states and the regional revolutionary fervor. In his interview in January with the Wall Street Journal, the president was very clear about the absolute necessity for internal reform and for respecting the peoples’ dignity:

It is about doing something … to change the society, and we have to keep up with this change, as a state and as institutions … it is about … the people’s feeling and dignity, about the people participating in the decisions of their country. It is about another important issue … [about being] very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence between your policy and the people’s beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance. So people do not only live on interests [alone]; they also live on beliefs…

Very plainly, Assad was committing himself to reform. In his recent address, he repeated it: “Without reform we are on the path of destruction,” but then he chose deliberately not to offer a list of concessions to those who had so far demonstrated. This omission was the most carefully deliberated and calculated aspect of his speech. Recall that the Syrian state was not in peril. No senior figure has defected from it, and the army remains loyal. The protest movement in Daraa so far has failed to take root in the cities. The number of anti-demonstrators that turned out in Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama, three of Syria’s four largest cities, numbered in the hundreds and not the thousands, while the pro-demonstrations in those cities were massive.

***

What then do the massive pro-Assad demonstrations seem to say? I suspect that many of those marching have seen too clearly what sectarian strife has done to Iraq — (there are over a million Iraqi refugees in Syria); and many may also have been unnerved by the sudden Western intervention in Libya and the threat there of civil war. They have seen that before as well. They, too, want reform: They share a conviction that Assad also wants it and were demonstrating largely against those elements who seek precisely such a descent into civil strife that will signal an end to that hope. Many Syrians may suspect that the externally promoted concept of reform may be a Trojan horse being used against Syria and the resistance axis more widely.

Assad’s address therefore was to this latter group — a group that did not exist as a majority elsewhere in the region. The pro-Assad demonstrators sought a signal of self-confidence and will, but will also now be looking to see that promised reforms do indeed materialize. Assad seems to intend that reform — the ending of the emergency laws, the lifting of restrictions on the press, and a new law to provide for a plurality of political parties — progresses rapidly. Success in this project depends crucially, of course, on the president’s ability to stem and to stop the killing of protesters, too.

If Assad succeeds — and it seems, thus far, to be heading in that direction — the calculation by some external analysts that Assad will emerge somehow weakened by greater popular participation seems improbable: Much of his personal popularity rests precisely on his foreign-policy stance, in which he has been closely aligned with popular sentiment. More probable is that Assad will emerge with his stature enhanced, and Syria will be set on a course for resuming its traditional place at the center of Arab politics. Correctly understood, a strengthened Syria offers a better prospect for resolving present regional tensions, rather than aggravating them.


WordPresser
Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

2 comments on “Understanding Asma’s husband

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. Crooke is very impressive and is on firm ground when he points out that Assad is extremely concerned with the dignity of the average Syrian.
    I’m with him in thinking that Assad’s approach to a measured but entirely sincere effort to bring full political rights to each Syrian is going to insure that Assad becomes wildly popular and that he’s likely to win the next twelve or fifteen elections with ever-increasing margins.
    People in Syria, joyfully, are going to be advising their as-yet unborn offspring to vote for Assad.

    That Crooke is like 3/5s of an Assad himself.

  2. The Dauphin doesn’t look very scary, one could imagine him doing eye glass orders in Knightsbridge, but it strikes me like more of the Monitor
    Group hijinks.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Related

Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

Comment →

Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

Comment →

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

Comment →
CK's WP Plugins

Categories

Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins