Monday, September 24, 2012

Tyrant, son of a Tyrant (in English)

A reader who does NOT wish to be identified kindly translated my article on Bashshar Al-Asad:

The Tyrant Son of a Tyrant
By As'ad AbuKhalil

"On the chests of Arabs sit tyrants, and sons of tyrants. Tyrants breed, but not forever. The Arab uprisings – if anything – have demonstrated that the time of tyrants is finite, even if America and Israel were the guarantors. Syria suffered from the rule of the tyrant, and is suffering from the rule of the tyrant’s son.

Bashar al-Assad disappeared for months before appearing on “Addounia” TV station – a model of economic privatisation in Arab states of oppression. The paternal or maternal cousin, of all others, wins the right to start a private company. Privatisation is but a transfer of the privilege of the ruling family, embodied in the state, to the privilege of relatives, friends and underlings. The absence of Bashar was striking, for he views himself as a popular choice of Baathist referendums, which carry as much credibility as the allegiance ceremonies held in the states of oil, gas or phosphates. Bashar returned, but his tone on the Syrian screen differs from its version on Western ones. You see him in his interview with Barbara Walters, for instance, striving to appear likeable, intimate and kindly. There is no trace of such exertion in Bashar’s Syrian interviews. The tyrant’s son sees no need to convince people, or to apologise. The tyrant’s son sees no need to win people’s hearts, as their perpetual love is guaranteed in his mind's eye.

Bashar was born to a tyrant. He did not live his father’s experience while preparing for the conspiracies of power. The secret military committee formed by Hafez and his comrades during the unity [with Egypt] was mindful that, while plotting to seize power, it had to admit that it stood at opposite ends with the majority of popular sectors. The Baath Party realised that it could not come to power through the ballot box, and so it decided that military conspiracy is the way. The military conspiracy is the brainchild of the Baath’s authoritarian ingenuity: The party apparatus is adept not only at plotting a coup, but also at eliminating counter-coups. Hafez al-Assad and his comrades became experienced in conspiring from within and outside the authority. During the time of Salah Jadid (which represented a genuinely secular era in the modern history of Syria), it was Hafez al-Assad who set the rhythm for putting down impending coups, or deterring coups, or even anticipating coups before they occurred. The ruling clique had no illusions: They knew perfectly well that they were imposing harsh rule through the force of the army and intelligence. A few years after they took power, their speeches became devoid of talk about the love of the masses.

Bashar is not the only son of a tyrant among Arab rulers. There is King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and King Abdullah of Jordan, and King Abdullah the Saudi, and the ruler of the UAE, and the Sultan of Oman, and the Emir of Qatar and the King of Bahrain: They are all sons of tyrants. The tyrant’s son toddles within the high palace walls, and the heavily armed cortege rush to him whenever he makes a sound of boredom. He is fed early on caviar and gold: The tyrant’s son will not taste “commoner” food. The King of Jordan once said, while boasting his relationships with the sons of rulers (this Abdullah was a close friend of Uday Saddam Hussein, but he did not dare once tell us about this years-long friendship), that they live the same lifestyle: They eat at the same European and American restaurants, ski at the same Swiss mountain resorts, and stay in the same luxury hotels in the West. He forgot to add that they gamble at the same clubs and visit the same night bars and enlist the same pleasure-advisors while staying in the West.

The tyrant’s son believes that women transcend virginity when he appears in public, and that citizens experience ecstasy at the mention of his name. The cortege convinced the tyrant’s son that his birth was no coincidence: He is of a divine nature. The King of Morocco (a reformist, as per the hypocritical West) feels no embarrassment about displaying his shoes in front of the human heads bowed before him. Bashar has no qualms about standing before his (un)elected council to eye members clapping repeatedly like penguins. The King of Jordan has no qualms about throwing citizens in prison on charges of “impudence,” (the man is an expert for Western visitors of the Middle East, who solicit his wisdom on matters of democracy and reform, and listen to his advice on the Syrian issue while masses of Jordanian objectors chant a few miles away from the palace in a language not understood by the foreign visitor.) The Gulf rulers have no qualms about arranging change in Syria and Yemen while they themselves have remained immune to change for decades long, and are themselves the product of a system of government that predates the Middle Ages.

The tyrant’s son has not heard the voice of the people since childhood: He only heard the cortege, flatterers and cheerleaders. No-one is admitted to his chamber unless they carried a drum and played the trumpet: These are the conditions for entry to the princely chamber.

The republican dynasties are amusing: They assume that people do not notice the founding of the dynasty. When Bassel al-Assad died, a bulk of poems were written about him and collected in a book (the majority of versifiers are hypocrites from the two competing sides in Lebanon.)

How can the tyrant’s son see the people when the name of the ancient country becomes glued (Saudi-style) to the name of the ruling family? Political sycophants in Lebanon have taken to using the term “Assad’s Syria.” That is to say, the existence of Syria is correlated to the existence of the family, and vice versa. Does this mean that the family does not accept that Syria exists sans the family? Is this the wisdom behind this label? Or does it refer to a new calendar – neither Gregorian nor Moslem: That Syria came into being with the ruling family? Or does the label say that Syria has become a property of the family? Commentators did not explain.

Bashar was raised in the tyrant’s house. Momentous events went by, and conspiracies continued. But Bashar’s upbringing was not modelled on Hafez’s, not only because it was free of hardship, but also in terms of the isolation from the ordinary people. The tyrant’s son is surrounded by a halo of worship and layers of cortege to prevent mixing with people. The tyrant’s son is raised with the idea that the people worship the tyrant-father, and that whoever is tempted to dissent or even question the regime is a positive conspirator and foreign lackey. For the tyrant’s son, there are no mitigating reasons for opposition.

Much of the behaviour of the tyrant Bashar in the ongoing conflict in Syria betrays the mentality of the upbringing of a tyrant’s son. The isolation of the ruler is conspicuous in Bashar’s dealing with the uprising. A few public appearances in almost one and a half year; insistence on ignoring massive popular aspirations, even if the regime enjoys, for various reasons, some popular support; clinging to reform slogans that no longer convince anyone. The defection of the Syrian prime minister came as the best evidence: Hijab was in contact with the opposition before he was assigned his post. That is, it never crossed Bashar’s mind that the man might not be among his cheerleaders – or that he was a cheerleader, but defected at a price. Reform lies only in maintaining the regime, by any means, with some changes in décor, and bringing in an agreeable and trustable opposition.

The tyrant was raised in affluence and – despite all the talk about his personal lack of wealth and his father’s simple living – was used to affluence around him. Uncles and cousins amass gold, silver and dollars solely by reason of kinship. The private sector under the Baath became a private one – a prerogative of the ruling family and kin. The private is family property, and the public is family property. When the Syrian regime introduced “economic reforms” – in the terminology of the World Bank and the IMF – the rich became richer and the poor poorer. The party which in bygone days spoke for the poor is now ashamed of them. The bourgeoisie became the backbone of the regime. Disdain for the poor is evident for those who follow the regime’s media: The expression “sandal folk” aims at ridiculing the poor for their poverty – as if the royal family came to be rich off the sweat of their sect. The regime talks about little dollars that tempt the poor to rise up and bomb. The regime’s rich do not know that they are confronting the Gulf’s rich. The poor are forgotten by both sides.

Bashar yields no sign of self-doubt. There are aspects of personal ego that are reminiscent of Saddam. Even the tyrant Bin Ali was forced to humility; he visited Bouazizi and almost kissed his hands and feet. Hosni Mubarak showed no humility, and was arrogant and conceited, Bashar-style. Perhaps Bashar grew up with the values of Assadist Machiavellianism: Humility is weakness, and self-criticism leads one to the guillotine. When doing a mea culpa, the agent must always be in the ablative.

Syria has moved into the cauldron of a civil and regional-global war. The belligerents have become tools in a battle which motives and goals they know not. Bashar may have become a tool in his turn, but he realises that the dynasty is part of the tyrant’s legacy. The family will not accept a handover, come what may. Maintaining the dynasty is more important than preserving a bleeding homeland. The sponsors on his side may be just like the sponsors of his adversaries: They do not care about what is happening. The interests of the [non-Syrian] state are more important.

The era of the tyrant’s son may last long or short. But it is certain that the tyrant’s grandson will not rule – even for one day. His parents regret calling him “the eternal burden.”"