The arrival of the Arab Spring in Syria in January 2011 was also seen as a passing wind by most observers in the West. After all, Syria was neither Tunisia nor Egypt; it was a much more conservative system, Bashar al-Asad had a firm grip over the country through entrenched interests, and there was no sign of a widespread uprising in January when the first demonstrations started. Almost six months later, the resilience of Syrians has proven to be a far more daunting challenge for Bashar than he had expected.

Quantum Note

By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

Several weeks ago when Bashar al-Asad said “the Arab Spring stops here,” he knew what he was saying and why: the forty-six year old man, who had inherited the state when his father died in 2000, has known nothing but ruthless authority. His father had ruled the country for 29 years with an iron fist. The state had come to him with a fully entrenched repressive system backed by the ubiquitous secret police and a brutal military and he belongs to the powerful minority Alawi clan, which is fully integrated into the architecture of Syrian power.

The arrival of the Arab Spring in Syria in January 2011 was also seen as a passing wind by most observers in the West. After all, Syria was neither Tunisia nor Egypt; it was a much more conservative system, Bashar al-Asad had a firm grip over the country through entrenched interests, and there was no sign of a widespread uprising in January when the first demonstrations started. Almost six months later, the resilience of Syrians has proven to be a far more daunting challenge for Bashar than he had expected.

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Hafez al-Asad, who massacred thousands of Syrians during his 29-year dictatorship, had wanted Bashar’s brother Basil to be his heir, but when Basil died in a car accident, he quickly called Bashar back from London, where he was studying ophthalmology, enlisted him in the military academy, propelled him through the ranks to become a colonel in 1999, just within four years of his joining the army and in time to take over when he died in 2000.

Like all Middle East dictators, Bashar al-Asad was elected president unopposed with “a massive popular support” of 97.2% of the votes. In his case, there was, however, a hope: Syrians saw him as a young reformer who might change the course of his father’s dictatorship, but this hope ended within months of his take over. In fact, most Syrians considered him a mere puppet and believed the actual power was held by a group of generals. On 27 May 2007 Bashar was approved president for another seven-year term, with the official result of 97.6% of the votes in a referendum without another candidate.

The ruling elite in Syria consists of a network of loyal Alawites, most of these men were given covert and overt power and authority by Hafez al-Asad and many of them also have connections with the powerful and brutal Syrian army which is good for nothing but hpw internal repression. During the forty years of the rule of Asad family, the military, the ruling elite, and the ruthless secret police have become intertwined. Yet, recently, there have been some defections and the citadel of Bashar’s power may not be as strong as he thinks.

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It is, however, not the Syrian army but the backing of the French and the British governments which has played the most effective roll in Bashar’s brutal repression of the uprising against him. And this is not without reason: Bashar al-Asad has paid his dues to both French and British establishments. According to the Middle Eastern Quarterly “there are lingering questions of Syrian payments to French politicians. Many French politicians join associations and charitable boards both for financial and political gain. The board of the L’Association d’Amitié France-Syrie (France-Syria Friendship Association), for instance, has among its members former prime minister Raymond Barre, former secretary of state Claude Cheysson, and even Nicolas Sarkozy!

Britain has its own share of the underhanded deals with Syria. Bashar al-Asad had moved in the right circles while he was studying in UK. He established close links with the ruling and business elite and remained a rather low-key gentleman in the circuit which looks after British interests in Syria. The extent of British support and ties with the repressive Asad regime can be understood from the fact that even the British university system is not immune to accepting funds from this poor state. The University of St Andrews, where Prince William and Kate Middleton studied, for instance, has received more than £100,000 in funding for its centre for Syrian studies. This was arranged by the Syria’s ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami, who is on the centre’s board of advisers. The Board also has as its member Fawaz Akhras, the British-based cardiologist who is Bashar al-Asad’s father-in-law, and a gatekeeper for the family’s interests in UK. He has organized several visits to Damascus and meetings with Bashar al-Asad for sympathetic members of parliament.

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All of these are direct links to a repressive regime which, unlike the Libyan dictator now under fire, continues to enjoy support of the Western powers, despite lip service being offered on both sides of the Atlantic. As the number of people being killed by the Bashar regime continues to increase and Syrians remain resilient despite brutal massacres, there may come a day when spring will actually arrive in that beautiful capital of this enchanting country, which has produced some of the best scholars of Islam and where a number of Companions of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, found a warm and welcoming home. Syria is blessed with a spiritual ambiance that no other country offers. It has one of the oldest, some say, the oldest, continuously habituated city of the world as its capital and its marvelous country side still has the charm of an ancient world. It would be so sad to see it all destroyed because a minority clan wants to continue its strangling hold on the country.

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