Qatar propaganda machine Al Jazeera admitted in February 2011, a month before the start of the uprising, that the prospect of a successful ‘revolution’ in Syria was unlikely – due to the popularity of the country’s president: Bashar al-Assad. The report states:
“Unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who’s 83, Bashar al-Assad is young. Young people are quite proud of him. They may not like the regime, they don’t like corruption and a lot of things, but they tend to blame this on the people around him, the ‘old guard’.”
A Syrian student echoes these comments. “The president knows that reform is needed and he is working on it”, she says.
“As for me, I don’t have anything against our president. The main issues which need to be addressed are freedom of speech and expression as well as human rights. I believe that the president and his wife are working on that. New NGOs have started to emerge.
“Also, many things have changed since Bashar came to power, whether it has to do with road construction, salary raises, etc. Even when it comes to corruption, he is trying hard to stop that and limit the use of ‘connections’ by the powerful figures in Syria. However, he won’t be able to dramatically change the country with the blink of an eye.”
Bashar came to power in 2000, after his father passed away. For much of his life he had assumed that the task of ruling would pass to his older brother, so he began studying medicine, eventually gaining a doctorate in ophthalmology at London’s Western Eye Hospital. However, in 1994, his brother Bassel died in a car crash; Bashar was recalled to Damascus, where he married the British-Syrian Asma, and begun preparing to lead the country.
Syria is now considered as being a secular/multi-faith society, perhaps now the last one in the Middle East apart from Lebanon, since the US/UK imposed regime changes in Iraq and Libya. The western media has focused on the fact that Bashar belongs to the minority Alawite Shia sect, alienating the country’s 22 million Sunnis. However, there are many government positions occupied by Sunnis, including the first lady Asma.
Al Jazeera highlight that Syria is essentially a one-party state, and opposition parties are essentially banned. In the report, Joshua Landis – the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma – claims:
“I’m always astounded how the average guy in the street, the taxi driver, the person you talk to in a restaurant or wherever, they don’t talk about democracy. They complain about corruption, they want justice and equality, but they’ll look at elections in Lebanon and laugh, saying ‘who needs that kind of democracy’?”
“The younger generation has been depoliticised. They don’t belong to parties. They see politics as a danger and they have been taught by their parents to see it as a danger. They look at the violence out there, in places like Iraq.”
Facebook sites calling for protests to be held in Syria on February 4 and 5 got about 15,000 fans but failed to mobilise demonstrators for a “day of anger”. In fact, countercampaigns set up online in favour of the government garnered as much support.
Ribal al-Assad, an exiled cousin of President al-Assad and the director of the London-based Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria, said the people calling for protests were all based abroad and he is not surprised that nothing happened inside Syria.
“The campaign was a bit outrageous. First, they’ve chosen a date that reminds people of the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood [the 29th anniversary of the Hama massacre],” he says.
“People don’t want to be reminded of the past. They want change, they want freedom, but they want it peacefully. And the picture they used on Facebook, a clenched fist and red colour like blood behind, it was like people calling for civil war and who in his right mind wants that?”
It is not difficult to see why young Syrians would be disillusioned with western style democracy following the campaign of shock and awe that bombarded their neighbours in 2003, followed by 10 years of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration consulted with the exiled Iraqi ‘opposition’; in fact evidence of Saddam’s WMD was fabricated by one such exile, in order to take revenge on the dictator and incite a war.
For meaningful change to be implemented, it must be done so with popular support of the citizens. What Al Jazeera, and other media outlets have failed to show outside audiences, are the large pro-government rallies that regularly take place. This is why, for almost 4 years, Syria has endured a civil war and not a revolution.
Syria: ‘a kingdom of silence’
Syria: One Month Before ‘Revolution’ Al Jazeera Admits Revolution Unlikely Due To Assad’s Popularity:
Why no Revolution Exists in Syria: