Robin Yassin-Kassab


with 5 comments

picture by Ali Ferzat

Bashaar al-Asad’s speech this week was undoubtedly a sign of weakness. Apart from a phone call to Lebanon, the ‘president’ (how insubstantial the word now sounds) hadn’t been seen or heard for two months. Turkey, the West, even Russia wanted to see a proactive, present president dealing with the crisis; Syrians began to wonder if the man was under house arrest, or sedated, or dead. So finally he turned up, only to repeat vague and unsubstantiated noises about ‘reform’, ‘dialogue’, and the like. All entirely meaningless – the killings and arrests continue regardless. The greater part of the speech focussed on the alternative reality which lives in regime heads – on conspiracies, germs, saboteurs, vandals, infiltrators. At the start of the trouble, the president said, he’d thought the ‘armed groups’ contained only 10,000 men. Imagine his surprise when he learnt there were in fact 64,000!

The only change was one of style. This time al-Asad was careful not to giggle. (A Facebook page was set up the day before the speech, called – in Arabic – ‘Bashaar, if you laugh tomorrow, we’ll shit on you.’) The camera was careful to pull away from the president when the audience applauded, lest he break into one of his gormless smiles. But he wasn’t smiling. There was very definitely fear in his eyes. And he’d lost weight. Not as much as lost by 1400 corpses, but a good few kilos.

The speech was applauded by the regime’s hardcore supporters. Nobody else was impressed. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said it was “not enough.” Protestors immediately scorned it on the streets of Homs, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, and in the suburbs of Damascus. If the regime thought that speech number three would swing the situation, it must be very disappointed indeed.

So, the day after the speech, the state orchestrated large pro-regime demonstrations in cities throughout the country. This was supposed to be a show of strength, and the crowd in Damascus’s sahat al-Umawiyeen did appear to be huge. Of course many of these people were state employees ‘given the day off’ so long as they went to demonstrate loyalty. Many others were non-ideological Baath Party members likewise told to attend. (It’s easy to find Ba’ath Party members who curse the Ba’ath, people who joined the party for the sake of career advancement or because at some point in their lives they felt unable to say no). That still leaves many people who genuinely wanted to be there – because they fear the future, or are in denial concerning the regime’s crimes, or support the regime’s crimes because of their personal corruption or their sectarian or class prejudices. In any case, a huge crowd of Syrians demonstrated in support of a regime which is murdering and torturing Syrians. The crowd demonstrated various social sicknesses, which is not something to be proud of.

Yet pro-regime propagandists point to the crowds with pride. This is the equivalent of Britain organising a turn-out of neo-Nazis and drug addicts and then boasting about the numbers. It’s like a Saudi spokesman boasting that millions of Saudi men support the ban on women driving while at the same time they boost the prostitution industry from Marakesh to Manila. It’s like Scandinavia boasting about its suicide rate. Like America advertising the numbers that believe Obama’s a secret Muslim. None of these are things to be proud of.

Seven anti-regime Syrians were shot dead on the margins of the pro-regime demonstrations. The sacrifice made by these martys is something to be proud of. The fact that tens of thousands of Syrians of all backgrounds are demonstrating every day and every night despite the high probability that they’ll be murdered or tortured – this is a source of pride. The fact that outrage, love of their compatriots and love for the future overcomes fear in so many hearts; and the fact that the overwhelming majority of protests continue to reject violence and to chant slogans of national unity and freedom for all – this is an enormous source of pride.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Syria

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5 Responses

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  1. Robin,

    First of all thank you again for another moving article.

    I read through some of your previous posts in which you support, praise, and defend Hezballah. I have nothing against that. I did it myself, at least until 2005 when I experienced a worldview metamorphosis. But what are your thoughts now? Are you experiencing some cognitive dissonance or do you think the group is reacting morally to the events in Syria?

    thanks and please keep writing!



    June 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm

  2. i said in a previous post, rm, that nasrallah had committed an uncharacteristically enormous blunder. but more needs to be said about it, and i will..

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    June 23, 2011 at 7:35 pm

  3. thanks Robin!

    To be more specific (if I may), two issues concern me & which I suspect deserve further scrutiny, namely, (i) what makes a previous supporter of the hezb moral worldview/struggle change his minds? I am asking this because I had many discussions with friends that support the hezb and who still refuse to see this as a blunder. Is it just a question of being impartial with one self? Are my friends then biased? Or they have bad faith?

    And (ii) what are the real options of the hezb? Do they really have a choice, are they “free” to criticize Assad? Does the hezb believe the rethoric f the regime? I doubt anyone with some sanity believes anything this regime says … But as a group which alyways took the higher moral ground how can they remain silent?

    all the best



    June 23, 2011 at 9:27 pm

  4. Dear Robin,
    You are hands down the best observer writing on the Syrian uprising.

    I think many opposition figures dismiss the genuine support this regime has. My unscientific estimate is that 20% of Syrians are behind the regime. Given assurances of security, employer collusion (both private and public), and a slavish media, it mustn’t have been hard to get several hundred thousands on the street. I tell people to not lose credibility by claiming people were coerced; the factors I just mentioned should be more than sufficient for organizing massive demos.

    But one question baffles me: Why can’t those (genuine) supporters come out as frequently as the brave souls demonstrating against the regime?


    June 25, 2011 at 10:29 am

  5. bsyria: I agree with your general assessment and I think the answer lies within it. The genuine supporters of the regime are I think mostly motivated by the status quo, by the notion that without the regime things would be worse on security or economic or foreign policy grounds or other grounds. Imagine a political campaign in an open democracy where one candidate fired people up with a vision for a radically different, better future, while the incumbent said “vote for me because, hey, things could be a lot worse…” Not exactly the sort of stuff that makes most people want to jump up off their couches. But enough people do likely believe the line for whatever reason, that when given a little extra prodding (employer, media, stoking of fears, hatred of others, playing the patriotism=regime card, etc.) they’ll come out for a demo and more or less mean it. Or at least that angle seems logical to me.

    Non-Arab Arab

    June 26, 2011 at 1:36 am

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