Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In the Balance

The Syrian government knows that this is the critical period of the revolution. If the unrest is nipped in the bud, then the Assad regime will have survived the crisis of its new generation. If not, and if the people continue to be defiant, then the country will go into freefall. Either way, the Assad regime has been dealt a major blow both domestically and internationally. The Syrian government has, over the past 11 years, been very careful to cultivate an image of moderation, sovereignty and secularism.

Massive PR efforts included flattering articles about the country in European and American international newspapers, dazzling and romanticised interviews with the president's charming wife, and a slick propaganda campaign internally. The new president was determined to do away with the trappings of Eastern bloc dictatorship and crude propaganda that he inherited from his father. Yet this has now all amounted to naught.

In the space of a few short weeks Syria's image has gone from internationally respected to banana republic. The portrayal of her statesmen as urbane, educated technocrats who are welcome in polite society throughout Western capitals has also been shattered. When Jeremy Paxman interviewed the Syrian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dr Sami Khiyami, he introduced him as "the president's man" in the UK and immediately ruffled the latter's feathers. Any pretence that the discussion would be one of polite, sobre debate was thrown out of the window when his excellency's incredible justifications for an authoritarian regime were dismissed as incredible justifications for an authoritarian regime. For once I thanked God for the freethinking, no-nonsense, temerity that only the English can muster in the face of authoritarian dogma. In my eyes it was a short, but glorious, interview.

Hama 1982 - Daraa 2011

It is, and I say this with great trepidation, still nowhere close in terms of a body count. But the similarities between Daraa and Hama are now increasing at an alarming rate. The Syrian army has deployed its troops and personnel a stones-throw from the Israeli-occupied Golan heights to once again kill Syrian citizens. The official version of the news is that the residents of Daraa had implored the government for assistance in the face of a "salafist" insurgency that aims at transforming Daraa into an Islamic emirate. Syrian television has, just today, broadcast pictures of what it claims are militants who were captured, along with weapons caches that have been discovered. Nobody, apart from the regime's most ardent supporters, believes these ludicrous claims; Yesterday an al Jazeera presenter laughed out loud when he heard an apologist for the Syrian regime call in and give the official version of events. In another sign of the regime's desperation, on Saturday I was watching the Syrian state satellite channel and they had, unbelievably, exclusive and exhaustive coverage of floods (that nobody has heard about) in the Qamishli!

What this all shows is that the messages coming from the official media are confused, panicked and inconsistent. Whether this regime will succeed in cowing protesters in other cities by its actions in Daraa will only be apparent come this Friday.

A Bitter Pill

It is, for me, tragic to have the West speak of Syria as if it were a central African state with which they could interfere at will. I don't blame the protesters for an instant, and hold the regime entirely responsible for putting Syria, and Syrians, on the moral backfoot. You cannot be taken seriously, nor respected, when you do not have justice by your side. Whether in the eyes of the West or, more importantly, in the eyes of the Arab world, the Syrian regime has lost all credibility - and this is something that they cannot regain with tanks and bullets.


Nobody said...

Who is the army fighting in Daraa? I can't figure it out from the media. They said that some units joined the protesters, but nobody stated it in clear terms that these soldiers are the ones who are defending the city. The Syrian army has been reported several times reinforcing the troops in Daraa with tanks and the stuff. This thing is starting looking like the siege of Misrata

Maysaloon said...

The news is confusing and sparse. I have a feeling there have been some defections simply because why would you need reinforcements to a city if you are only firing at civilians? Many questions, but only time will tell us the answers.

Nobody said...

By the way, I thought you might find this link interesting. It gives an overview of the evolution of a protest in a suburb of Damascus