On Jan, 5, 2011, Subhi Hadidi, a journalist termed by many in the opposition, including myself, as a moral compass for being fiercely independent in his criticism of the Syrian regime, published an article in the London based Pan Arab newspaper Alquds Alarabi about the cornerstone of the Syrian regime and its evolution during the past 10 month. The article’s introduction describes the intent of Adanan Alsukhbi, the regime’s governor of the Raqqa governorate of Syria to uproot the 15 years old olive trees planted on the private farm of activist lawyer Abduallah Al-Khalil after Assad’s militias destruction of the the lawyer’s house. One of two trees mentioned in the Quran (fig and olive), and a universal symbol of peace, olive trees are both mystical and semi-sacred. And uprooting olive trees, next to home demolition, has been a constant presence in Arab memory ever since it has been practiced by Israeli settlers and IDF soldiers be it as collective and individual punishment of Palestinians, pre-confiscation action, or part of the controversial and illegal price-tag policy exacted by extremist settlers against both the Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
It was an epic irony that, in his forth speech since the uprising started, and while the issue of uprooting olive trees in Raqqa, being fresh, and with Bashar Al-Assad being dubbed by many Syrians as having presided over the killing of more Syrians than double the number of Lebanese and Palestinians killed through the two most recent actions of Israel’s forces, and right after berating “certain” Arab countries and the Arab League as betrayers of Arabism (Urooba), chose, with pride, Syria’s rank as the fifth country in producing olives and olive-oil as one of the fundamental strengths of Syria that he hoped will get Syria through the isolation his regime has put the country through. It goes without saying that farmers and refugees from Jabal Alzzaweyah and Idlib region, have also described Assad’s forces scorched earth policy of uprooting and burning ancient olive trees in this region, which is responsible for a majority of Syria’s high quality olives and olive oil. Needless to say, Syrians have been talking loudly about the fact that the number of victims of the Assads’ forty one year reign of terror already exceeds the numbers of Syrians who lost their lives in the multiple wars with the enemy the regime is supposed to protect Syria from.
Keen observers of blogs and journals where open discussions of Syrian affairs take place would notice that regime loyalists are more or less oblivious to Ironies. And yesterday, in his speech, the subject of adoration and worship not only re-affirmed such observation, but took it into new lows. While a number of gaffs, some of which were related to the man’s well-known lisping, which was on and off quite, indicating his extreme stress. More, however, were related to the content of the speech, to his detachment from reality, to his sophistry and lecturing style, to his bizarre concepts of governance, constitutional reforms and to the mere fact that he said nothing new in the speech, which caused some to say “the man has swallowed his previous speeches and threw them all up together”, or so we thought.
The speech, as described above, started with a contemptuous brouhaha about the Arab League, about countries, who, as opposed to Syria, have no history and tradition with Arabism. Those countries, according to Assad, now have money and think that their money allows them to buy “geography!” and establish pretentious claim to Arabism. This was followed by a boring rehash of reform talk, mixed with conspiracy—conspiracy—conspiracy segment. In this segment Assad clearly indicated that he does not intend to leave power, unless asked by his people!, and with an obvious repeating of Qaddafi’s mantra regarding utter lack of interest in position. The final segment was the most significant, in it, Assad revived his fathers’ speech in 1980s, bringing back terms such as the “Satanic Brotherhood” as he referred to the Muslim Brothers, also reviving and declaring his intent to arm and mobilize “popular militia”. He also alluded to “secret dialog” with some opposition figure and drafter a list of conditions for what he termed “patriotic opposition” that is consistent the conspiracy theory, and would lead to nothing more than parties that are mirror image of his own, and of the pathetic parties currently engaged in the dead-wood National progressive front.
Assad saved his worst to the part in which he demonstrated that he continues to live in his own reality. It was to the wide-spread opposition in the streets where he directed his most contemptuous language. He accused them of causing the acute fuel and power shortages, of closing thousands of schools and of being anti-education and of committing all kinds of heinous murders. As for the wide-spread brutality of his regime forces, Assad claimed that there is not much evidence of that and only few murder cases were investigated within his own forces because of the lack of evidence, ignoring the law his father signed and he cntinues to renew, which exempts members of security forces from being held to account in law. He kept asking would revolutionaries do so and so in an increasing crescendo reaching the infamous promise of hitting with Iron Fist, which he claimed is not an execution of the demands he has received from honest Syrians for all-out war. Strangely enough, there was no power shortage anywhere in the country during the speech and for a period after the speech sufficient for regime- media to provide the usual post-speech glorification of the unique-leader”.
It is noteworthy that Assad chose to point out that “honest and patriotic citizens” have been urging him to “finish it” and to clamp down hard on the “terrorists”. This links the fascist campaign, which was initiated by a letter from one of the most vocal anti-revolution reactionaries “Bassam Alkadi”, who accused every protester of treason, and few others urging the “president” and the armed forces to defend Syria with all of their power. Alkadi’s letter was the first in a series of face-book status updates by a series of “regime-poets, by the wife of the newly appointed director of the Syrian radio and TV, apparently closed her facebook profile but not before her comment, in which she berated the army for not hitting the terrorist hard enough and asked soldiers to shoot any “suspect” straight in the head, went viral. I and few others have noticed the coordinated campaign as the messages, while differently worded, have had the same set of murderous suggestions and demands of increasing brutality, along with the usual demonization of the revolution Alkadi and his supporters have excelled at. Few intellectuals were repulsed and hit back, but their outrage was personal, and not sufficient to expose the coordinated campaign, which is a hallmark of the regime’s propaganda machination.
The irony does not stop here, Assad’s incoherent attempt to brand the demonstrators as terrorists included accusation of halting the education of Syrians. One has to recall the methods the regime uses to “herd” students of all ages as well public sector employees into regime’s festivals of loyalty and to imagine the number of school hours wasted in the personality cult rituals. To add insult to injury, today one of these feasts was held under the banner “The president between his children” in which students were herded in buses to meet the “great father” and his biological family. I said it, these thugs are oblivious to ironies, talking about this thug as a father just a day after his henchmen delivered the body of a four months (yes Four MONTHS) old baby murdered under torture while maintaining her parents under arrest. The baby was arrested with her parents hours earlier. Today, the tyrant encouraged the forcibly herded kids as well as his loyalists to “forge ahead” ” الى الأمام “, words uttered by Qaddafi in his Zenga Zenga famous and moronic speech. Activists are taking this as a sign of the impending end. The spokesman of the local coordination committees affirmed the summary dismissal members of university faculty for their refusal to join today’s worship rituals. Just a day after Assad berated the protesters for their effect on the “educational process”.
Assad’s talk of reform too late and rings hollow. As discussed above, the sol-called national unity government, will only be a cover for continuing repression and brutality. I would not be surprised if he included a fascist reactionary figure, who calls for “surgical strikes” and for “execution of protesters” as a minister of “human rights”. His emphasis that security is the priority and that it will be brought about with iron fist, coupled with his insistence (same as the opposition) that reforms can not happen while people are being killed, and with his declared intention of proceeding with reforms-related referendum on the “re-customized” constitution, which is likely to exclude term-limt articles, sometimes in March indicates that he expects the iron fist policy to finish off the protest movement by March. SNC, i believe, read the speech appropriately as indicated during the press conference it held, and by the statements of its different blocks as well as of that of its president. An interesting phenomenon was the disappearance of honorific names (i.e., Doctor, President) from Haytham Manna’a references to Assad after the speech, and the declaration from the CNB that they are not and have never been a party to the secret discussions with the regime, and that they will not enter in any discussion or negotiation with the regime as long as its brutality continues. Manna’a said “if Bashar al-Assad asked me to become a Prime Minister, I would ask him to resign first“. Interesting! he is considering the premiership, isn’t he?
While analysts, including psycho-analysts continue to debate whether Assad is confident, stressed, or whatever, the speech was a threat. It demonstrated that he will hang on to power to the last possible drop of Syrian blood. It was clear that all real political solutions are of no interest to this regime, who has locked itself and Syria in a downward spiral towards civil war. Some have argued that the speech was a declaration of civil war. I tend to agree.