From the great hope to tyranny

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad speaking during an interview in Damascus. SANA / AFP
Syrian president Bashar Al Assad speaking during an interview in Damascus. SANA / AFP

Bashar Al Assad celebrated his 51st birthday yesterday. Despite the initial evidence of a ceasefire deal to stop the Syrian civil war, the brutal ruler has little to be proud of this year. His country is a place of death and destruction. As president he has directed the armed forces to turn their guns on Syrian civilians. He has presided over the wholesale destruction of entire towns and villages throughout the country that he is supposed to be protecting.

Mr Al Assad hasn’t always been thought of so poorly. When he first came to power, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs glowed about the leader who was a “product of Western education, with a cosmopolitan upbringing and independent views”. The New York Times referred to the shy and young “Doctor Bashar” in one of its first pieces about the future president.

Indeed, the first decade of Mr Al Assad’s time in office was a relatively smooth one, at least as far as internal politics was concerned. To establish strong support for the new ruler, the Syrian military was overhauled and Alawite officers replaced older staff who might otherwise have opposed Mr Al Assad. At the same time, Mr Al Assad forged a deep relationship with Hizbollah and Iran while continuing to exercise undue influence in neighbouring Lebanon.

In 2011, things began to change. Peaceful protesters inspired by the Arab Spring movements sweeping the region were violently crushed by Mr Al Assad’s security forces. From peaceful protest to the disintegration of Syria, Mr Al Assad has guided Syria during one of the most profound and tragic periods in its long history.

Whatever glimmers of hope accompanied his rise to power were extinguished long ago. For most of the international community, Bashar Al Assad’s next birthday should be celebrated with him being held to account for his crimes. While the international community is busy working on a deal to stop the warfare on the ground and defeat ISIL, Mr Al Assad remains in power. When the civil war finally ends, however, there will be no place for him.

Published: September 11, 2016 04:00 AM