Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Assad the Syrian


Joshua Landis' Syria Comment is one of the most influential blogs written by a gringo living in the Middle East. Landis has apparently left Damascus at least for now, but thankfully has kept Syria Comment alive thus far.

On January 7 he wrote "Will Asad Fall?", a round-up of doom and gloom about Syria's secular shaykh, Bashar al-Assad. Besieged on all sides by the U.N., Turkey and Israel, Washington's threats and its army in Iraq, and traitorous former vice presidents, Assad is acting to shore up his brand at home:

The blog Hunna Syria remarks on how the Baath Party flag has been taken down in front of some ministries, leaving only the Syria flag flying. Flying the Syrian flag without other embellishments has become the norm during the past several months. Even posters and images of the President are surprisingly absent. In Hafiz's day, it would have been the "struggling leader" whose image would have been brandished and displayed throughout Syria in times of crisis. No longer. The Syrian flag is accompanied by the words: "God protect Syria." Bashar has decided to go with "God and Country," rather than the cult of personal or party leadership. Asadism is out. Patriotism is in.

In this time when the international community and Bashar's opponents, such as Khaddam and the Muslim Brotherhood, are trying to distinguish between the house of Asad and the nation, this is a smart move. By championing God and country Bashar trying to undercut this attempt to drive a wedge between him and the people. We will see if it works. All the same it is a welcome development, for Syria has too long suffered from a lack of "Syrianism" and too much "Arabism." Perhaps an unintended benefit of Syria's crisis will be to create a real debate about what is good for Syria and not the quasi-mythic Arab world or its leaders, who have for so long sought to confuse their own interests with those of the nation.

Assad appears to be trying to identify his own interests with those of the Syrian people. His next logical step would be to choose a domestic scapegoat that patriotic "real Syrians" can rally against. Historically that would be the Jews, but they've practically all decamped to Israel except for the protected few in Damascus. The Islamists in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood are becoming too powerful.

Hmm. ... Wonder if the Kurds are free this weekend?

"Will Asad Fall?" is lengthy, but a rewarding read for background on Syria's and Assad's options.

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