What can a Jewish folktale tell us about Assad?

The Syrian dictator warned of the alternative and then helped create it.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [AP]
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [AP]

    Ever since the Syrian uprising started five years ago, Bashar al-Assad warned of the consequences of opposing him and threatened to remain in power at any cost. 

    And he delivered on his threat.

    Unlike the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Libyan autocrats who stepped down or were deposed, Assad held on tighter to his power.

    He rejected all pleas for a new democratic transition, and confronted Syrian attempts at replacing his regime with extreme violence that plunged the country into civil war.

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    Worse, he abetted and conspired in the creation of the worst case scenario in the form of ISIL, playing on Arab fear that is best summarised in the maxim: "Better one hundred years of tyranny than one day of chaos."

    It could be worse 

    Assad's strategy is best understood in the lesson learned from an old Jewish fable in which a Rabbi advises a man who complains about his bad fortunes to bring his animals into his home.

    First the goats, then the sheep, followed by the dogs and finally the donkeys. When the situation becomes unbearable, the Rabbi suggests that the farmer remove the animals from the house. When he does so, the farmer feels relieved.

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    In the same breath, Assad now hopes, after the advent of foreign forces and foreign fighters to the country, that Syrians will look back with nostalgia at the good old days of "peaceful dictatorship".

    Only after the tragic bombings in Paris and Brussels, and the weakening of the Syrian opposition, did Assad and his allies begin to direct their attacks at ISIL positions, hoping to earn favour in the West as the guardians of Syrian stability.


    Assad has brought in the Iranians, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and the Russian military when his massacres and barrel bombs failed to protect his regime from collapse.

    They have wreaked havoc on the country, and focused their wrath on the "moderate" Syrian opposition, allowing the utterly repressive ISIL group to grow and control major parts of Syrian territories. 

    Only after the tragic bombings in Paris and Brussels, and the weakening of the Syrian opposition, did Assad and his allies begin to direct their attacks at ISIL positions, hoping to earn favour in the West as the guardians of Syrian stability. 

    Now he expects Syrians and Westerners to be grateful to him for clearing out the ISIL group from Palmyra and other areas of the country, and accept the utility and legitimacy of his rule.

    Beyond cynical

    There is of course something terribly cynical about all of this, but some self-declared "realists" are buying into the dictator's arguments.

    What they miss is Assad's psychopathy. He is utterly careless about the consequences of his actions and totally indifferent to the harm and hurt he causes his people.

    More than 330,000 Syrians have been killed, and millions more have become refugees as most of the country laid in ruin. And for all the talk of peace, Assad clings ever harder to power regardless of the costs.

    One anecdote in particular reflects his character best. After gazing at his people in 2013 and being forced to give up his chemical weapons to avoid US retaliation, Assad joked that it should have been he who received that year's Nobel Peace Prize, not the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Reuters]

    And the joke continues.

    Confusing problems with solutions

    The Russians and Iranians have succeeded in forcing Assad on the Syrians as a "peace partner" in the effort to roll back the very tragedies he helped to create. 

    Now, Assad is betting that the West's frustration with the threat of ISIL and the refugee question will lead to expediency in dealing with the Syrian question.

    A growing number of Western pundits are now preaching the gospel of stable autocracy to deal with insecurity and terrorism after counter-revolutionaries recovered the initiative in Syria and other Arab states.

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    Officially and in public, the consequential powers - the US, France and Britain - continue to make it clear that Assad has no place in Syria's future.

    But in reality, Western powers have compromised with the Russians on the practical steps needed to make the transition to a secular, democratic Syria.  

    Judging from the compromise over the UN Security Council resolution 2254 that mandated the Syrian Geneva talks, the US and its allies are no longer categorical about shunning Assad from the future plans for the country.

    Fool me twice, joke's on me

    Assad might take Westerners for idiots, but Syrians can be fooled no more. Yes they want peace and stability, but not a return to dictatorship. And they are not buying into Assad's claim of patriotism and love of country, unless we add necrophilia to his other pathologies.

    Anyone who thinks that after 40 years of Assad family rule, coupled with horrendous repression and unprecedented violence, the Syrians are going to forget about the atrocities, or to lay low and accept more of the same, is hallucinating. 

    Even prominent members of Assad's own Alawite base are disassociating themselves from his actions, which further isolated their communities and deepened the sectarian tensions.

    Yes, Assad might have regained the initiative thanks to Russian air power. But that will not ensure him the leadership. It will only prolong the inevitable, his departure.

    Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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