Category Archives: Syria

Syria – Asad De-mock-racy: An election with one choice

The Syrian presidential elections held on 3 June 2014 are beyond any doubt fictional and farcical. This not just because the Syrian regime has always relied on the manipulation of rules[1] and the fabrication of popular consent, but also because of the carnage and total disarray that the on-going civil war has caused, with more the 162,000 deaths and millions forced to flee the country. The unprecedented fictional addition in these elections was the presence of two fairly unknown candidates running for the Presidency, Hassan bin Abdullah al-Nouri, a 54-year-old former MP from Damascus, and 43-year-old Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, a lawmaker from the northern city of Aleppo. They were the only two that were considered fit for the Presidential race among a group of 24 people – including a woman – that presented their candidacy. And, ultimately, even the 88.7% margin of victory, which seems to witness a loss in consensus – when compared to the 99.82% of the 2007 elections – is a sarcastic concession the regime has given to that part of the international community which attempted to delegitimize and remove him from power in the past 3 years of conflict.

Asad seems to be taking revenge of the multifarious prophesies of many prominent world leaders about his demise. For instance, in July 2011 the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “Asad has lost his legitimacy” and is “not indispensable”, while NATO Secretary General Rasmussen wrongly predicted that Asad would have stepped down in a “maximum of 6 months”. In February 2012 the Israeli Defence Minister said that that the fall of Bashar was “a matter of months, if not weeks”; in July 2012 the former head of the UN observatory mission in Syria, Robert Mood, similarly argued that the collapse of the regime was only “a matter of time”. Ultimately, current Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced the peremptory sentence: “Asad must go”.

On 3 June 2014, not only did Asad prove that hostile regional and international players had significantly underestimated his power, but he also showed that he could keep exerting control at will over a population terrified by the pervasive societal control of the mukhabarat (intelligence services) and a pyramidal rigid power structure, refined over 43 years of al-Asad family rule. Indeed, it is very likely that many people were forced to go to the polls to vote – and to vote for Asad under direct or indirect threats.

However, three years into the conflict, the miscalculations about Asad’s resilience were also exacerbated by several external political mistakes that have strengthened, rather than weakened, the regime’s ability to persist.

The first big mistake has been the forging and fueling of an opposition in exile (now represented by Ahmad Jarba) that is out of touch with the reality on the ground and with no direct link with the internal military opposition. Not surprisingly, this one claims the right to lead a potential political transition – if it will ever come to fruition – by virtue of its being on the forefront.

The second huge mistake has been the failure to support the indigenous Syrian military opposition, composed by ex-officer deserters and young militants that rose up to fight against Asad. For several months this national bulk of resistance has demanded the imposition of a no-fly zone, in order to contain the greater advantage of the loyalist Army, i.e. the aviation. They were never heard.

As a corollary, another major miscalculation has been to allow Islamist fighters, al-Qaeda affiliated, and financed by the Gulf countries, to penetrate Syria, thus exploiting the original thawra (‘uprising’) in order to serve either their own agendas or the geopolitical interests of their funders.

For several months, the US and some European countries have tacitly approved this state of affairs in the hope that political collapse was imminent and that, then, they would have been able to pull back radical jihadists from the country, allowing room for political transition. Not only has this hope not materialised, but the anti-Asad front has been weakened and fragmented: secularist forces are falling apart, rivalry between secularists and Islamists has derailed the objectives of the revolution, and even Islamist forces are fighting one another. And finally they have strengthened Bashar al-Asad, by paradoxically and ironically providing him with incontrovertible arguments to point out the evident failure of the international community in Syria.

[1] A stunning example is the change in the Constitution that the Parliament approved overnight in 2000, after the death of Hafiz al-Asad. The change lowered the minimal age to be elected President of Syria from 40 to 34, the age of Bashar al-Asad at that time.