Friday, 4 October 2013

Bashar Hafez al-Assad

Assad has a bad name in the West, why, what has he ever done to the West?

The main reason is that he is a friend of the east, namely Russia and China, not to mention the rogue state, Iran.

However, there is another way of looking at Assad and his family. Before his father came to power in Syria it was a failed state. It gained its independence in 1946 and by 1956 it had had 20 different governments and four constitutions. Army coups were the order of the day and sectarianism was rife. These changes of government were all by the military or security forces, they being the only ones well enough armed and organised to overthrow a government and then keep some semblance of order. During this period Russia was asked to give aid which it gladly did and gained a strategic foot hold in the Arab world although it was already heavily into aiding Egypt following the Suez debacle.

Chaos reigned in the country between 1956 and 1966. The influence of Russia and Egypt's Nasser brought about the political union of Syria with Egypt in what became the United Arab Republic. This was never going to work as one country always tries to dominate the other and the Syrians who felt Egypt was overbearing, broke away after a coup in 1961. The Ba'ath party, which was formed in 1947, one of many, gradually grew in influence until 1963 when it engineered a coup. From then on it was the only party allowed in Syria, all others were banned.

Crises, including arguments with the UN and Israel, and the Black September débâcle with Jordan led to a further coup by the Minister of Defence, Hafez al-Assad in November 1970.

From there to the present outbreak of hostilities resulting in the fully blown civil war, there has been relative peace in Syria. Hafez steadied the ship, brought in reforms, mainly socialist in nature, kept a tight rein on the armed forces and was able to establish peace throughout the country. I drove right round Syria in 1977 visiting Roman ruins and other sites of interest with my wife and two children and we had a great time and were treated very kindly by the local population wherever we were. It was a land of peace where all communities lived cheek by jowl and got on. Yes, Hafez was a hard man but he needed to be because of the diversity of the Syrian population. When he died in 2000 Syria had had its longest period of peace since the Second World War.

Bashar al-Assad, who was Hafez's second son, took over from his father. He is a Western educated, sophisticated and very clever man. However, as the top man in Syria he quickly realised that to rule that country he would have to act like his father. So he did. He is an Arab hard man like Hafez. His military forces are equipped and trained by the Russians as they have been since the 60s. He is a dictator which is why the West does not like him but Arabs and democracy are not happy bedfellows. Look at what has happened to the 'Arab Spring', it has been a catastrophe in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. A smooth and untroubled move from dictatorship to democracy is impossible and these states have proved it. Whilst there are many Arabs who lean towards a secular government there are still more religious fanatics, or jihadists, who want to impose their particular form of Islam and this includes Sharia law which is anathema to all those who don't.

Jihadists have the upper hand in all the Arab spring countries and are heading that way in Syria too. Whilst the West's dislike of Assad forces them to support his opponents they shy away from admitting that, in fact, the jihadists have the upper hand and should the war be lost by Assad it is they that will gain power. Then what we will have is another hard line government but it will be either Sunni or Shia and all others will suffer including and especially the Christian enclaves in Syria which have survived since the time of Christ. Will the West then go to their aid? I don't think so. That would be interfering in the internal affairs of another state – how ironic. The West needs to be careful of what it wishes for.

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