The Assad Regime

The al-Assad family (Arabic: عائِلَة الأَسَد‎) has ruled Syria since Hafez al-Assad became President of Syria in 1971 and established an authoritarian government under the control of the Ba'ath Party. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar succeeded him. 

The Assads are originally from Qardaha, just east of Latakia in north-west Syria. They are members of the minority Alawite sect and belong to the Kalbiyya tribe. The family name Assad goes back to 1927, when Ali Sulayman (1875–1963) changed his last name to al Assad, which means "the lion" in Arabic, possibly in connection with his social standing as a local mediator and his political activities. All members of the extended Assad family stem from Ali Sulayman and his second wife Naissa, who came from a village in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains. 

Family connections continue to be important in Syrian politics. Several close family members of Hafez al-Assad have held important positions in the government since his rise to power and continuing after his death, including members of his wife’s (Anissa) family, the Makhloufs who belong to the Haddad tribe. 

In March 2011, the bloody crackdown unleashed by Bashar Al-Assad against the nonviolent prodemocracy protest that swept across the country eventually plunged it into a sectarian civil war in which various regional players are supporting various proxies. The war continues to date and has led to the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the Cold War. 

See full entry on Wikipedia.

A peaceful protest in Hama, July 22, 2011.

The Syrian Revolution is the first major popular revolution of the 21st Century. Like most popular revolutions, the erstwhile ideals of its early leaders, a group of secular nonviolence activists, were soon set aside as the violent crackdown unleashed by the Assad regime, with the support of its regional and international backers, most notably Iran and Russia, produced a similar violent backlash among its opponents. Consequently, the country was plunged into a civil war in which various regional and international players cultivated their proxies along sectarian and ideological lines. The indifference of the international community and the unwillingness of major powers to push for a quick political solution, or to at least back moderate rebels at a time when they formed the majority of rebel fighters, have called into question the very legal and intellectual foundations of the new global order that seemed to be emerging following the end of the Cold War and the formulation of such legal doctrine as the Responsibility to Protect. The Syrian Civil War has so far claimed close to 250,000 deaths by conservative estimates, dislocated more than half the country’s population of 23 million, with an estimated 5 million becoming refugees in neighboring countries and the European Union, and destroyed the majority of the country’s infrastructure. The result is the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st Century, so far.

The Freedom Collection Blog | March 1, 2013

I have to apologize for not drawing a rosy picture in it or any of my recent writings, I prefer to describe reality and deal with it as it is in order to see what can be done to change it. For me, romantic notions don't give me the necessary will or tools to do that. They might work for other people, but they don't work for me. After all, I am not motivated by faith, but by a mixture of dutifulness and personal obsession, for better or worse.

As we approach the second anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, it’s important to remember a simple truth, if for no other reason than out of respect for all who have died or continue to suffer:

Although the revolution has unleashed one of the most brutal post-Cold War conflicts, it began as a peaceful protest movement calling for democratic reform. However, the massive crackdown ordered by the Assad regime, the inaction of Western leaders, and the political ineptness of the Syrian opposition have gradually transformed this nonviolent protest movement into a full-fledged civil war that has devastated the country.

Ammar-poster-CUIn its current condition Syria is no longer a viable state, and no political settlement seems conceivable at this stage. Though the civil war remains asymmetric with the bulk of the massacres being perpetrated by regime-linked militias, extremist groups (including some with Al-Qaeda connections) are proliferating on the side of rebel forces. Over the preceding year, the struggle between the two sides has been transformed into an identity conflict and a veritable holy war ruling out the possibility of compromise. Law and order has broken down across the country, except in a few pockets along the coast, in Kurdish-majority areas in the north and northeast, and in the Druze-majority province of Suweida in the South. With the introduction of Scud missiles to pound rebel-held territories alongside fighter jets, the nihilistic dimension involved in the conflict can no longer be ignored.  I fear the fate of the country has been irrevocably sealed.

The Syrian National Coalition’s near boycott of the Friends of Syria meeting in Rome and of their scheduled meetings in Moscow and Washington underscores the point that politics in the current context have been rendered irrelevant. The world can either intervene to put a forceful end to this tragedy, irrespective of the risks involved, or it can choose to maintain course and watch Syria implode perhaps seeking to alleviate some of the suffering.

The problem with the latter approach, beyond the grave humanitarian implications, is that it ignores the potential for spillover into neighboring countries and across the region. It also ignores the security ramifications of seeing various Syrian regions become havens for new Jihadi terrorist groups. More importantly, with so many autocratic regimes around the world facing the potential for similar revolutions, inaction by the international community against the Assad regime’s atrocities sends the wrong message to tyrants worldwide.

Meanwhile, in Syria’s quest for liberty or death, we are likely to see more death than liberty for years to come.

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian dissident and member of the Freedom Collection. 

The article was also published on the GWB Presidential Center website.

© 2013, Ammar Abdulhamid. All rights reserved.


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