April 25, 2011

Syria - more violence at the hands of "the reformer"

Hundreds of Syrian demonstrators have been killed by Syrian security and military forces on the orders of President Bashar al-Asad. This is in sharp contrast to the actions of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Yemeni armies which refused to fire on their own people. Syria is different, it always has been. It is ruled by a dictator with no concern for anything other than the perpetuation of his own regime, a man willing to use overwhelming violence to achieve that aim.

Regardless of how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized al-Asad as a "reformer," he's nothing of the kind. Oh, please spare me the drivel that she was only quoting visiting American legislators, that "many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” If Mrs. Clinton cited the words, she believed them and owns them.

The "reformer" image was something that Bashar cultivated as a promise to the people of Syria when he assumed power upon his father's death in 2000. It was not an easy feat, but his father had paved the way well. When the father dies, Bashar was not yet of age, but it only took the Syrian majlis al-sha'ab (legislature) about 90 minutes to change the constitution to allow him to serve. He came into power on a wave of hope that this young doctor, a technocrat, would move Syria into the modern world and be less restrictive than his father.

The hopes were short-lived. The younger Asad proved himself to be capable of all the negative attributes of his father. It was not long before he revamped the pervasive and overlapping Syrian internal security services and intelligence organizations into a newer, more modern regime-protection system. He replaced all of his father's cronies with his own - younger, better educated and more capable. Yet, for whatever reason, he was able to maintain a facade of hope and change (pun intended). He married a cosmopolitan Syrian woman who had grown up, been educated and had worked in England. They became Syria's "royal couple."

The Asads fit in well with that segment of Syrian society that has profited from the reign of the Ba'th Party. This group includes a mixture of the 'Alawite, Christian and Druze minorities and those Sunni Muslims who have allied themselves with the regime. On the other side is the specter of Islamic fundamentalism. It is the fear of turning into an Islamic republic like Iran that allies many groups with the Ba'th Party. That is ironic (or Iran-ic) since the Islamic Republic Iran is Syria's closest ally.

It is these groups that keep Bashar al-Asad in power. I lived in Damascus for several years and made friends with Syrians across the socioeconomic spectrum. Some of them fall into the category of supporting the regime. I recently asked one of them about the situation. I describe him as one who has "drunk the Kool-Aid," but you decide. Here are his comments (my translation):

"It is fine in Damascus, but there is some trouble in Homs, Latakia and Baniyas. Most of the people do not want problems in the country - what you see on television is much more exaggerated than the reality. It is hard for someone not here to understand what is really going on - no one is looking for trouble, perhaps maybe only 10 percent are causing the problems.

"I do not deny that we need to have some changes, but certainly it is not worth bloodshed and killing. We all know that our president is working towards that change - we love him and his wife.

"I cannot imagine the ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) in my country. We used to live in peace and that is all we want."

He then referred me to several Facebook pages and websites. I checked them out. They are nothing more than outright pro-regime propaganda.

-- https://www.facebook.com/pages/International-Latakia-News-Network-iLNN/212828238732239 (English)
-- https://www.facebook.com/pages/HNN-Homs-News-Network/195132347192669?sk=wall (mixed English and Arabic)
-- http://www.dearsyria.com/ (Arabic)
-- https://www.facebook.com/pages/DearSyria/163079277084127 (Arabic)

There are other sources of information, mostly being smuggled out of the country at great risk. If you have the stomach for it, here is what is really happening in Syria's cities.

WARNING - This is grisly, graphic material.

Is this the action of a "reformer?"