I see you, Bashar al-Assad

I see you, Bashar al-Assad
Comment: Assad may have finely tuned his propaganda machine, but history must remember him for what he is; a traitor of the Syrian people, writes Omar Sabbour.
7 min read
10 Sep, 2018
While claiming to defend Syrian sovereignty, Assad has massacred his people [AFP]
The last two years have seen the Assad regime adopt increasingly victorious and boastful rhetoric, claiming it has defeated the "foreign conspiracy" against the country, as part of what Assad dismissed as the "soap bubbles" of the Arab Spring.

With the potential last stand underway in Idlib, let history record some of the contradictions revealed over the years by one of the most successfully-marketed pied pipers of our age, Bashar al-Assad. 

The following is an open letter to Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria.


As the famous Ibn Khaldun phrase goes, "The tyrants bring the invaders".

Bashar al-Assad, you are truly are a pied piper.

For only you can bring tens of thousands of Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Afghans and Pakistanis to fight your battles on the ground (because for years now, you've been unable to find enough Syrians to fight for you) while claiming that you're defending Syrian "self-determination".

You can boast unashamedly of how you valiantly "recaptured" cities such as Aleppo, while the foreign forces representing you on the ground boasted of their greater importance than your vastly outnumbered rump army.

These forces were of course dominated by "secular" and "non-sectarian" border-crossing anti-Islamists - 
such as "The Nobles of the Party of God" (Hizballah al-Nujaba), the "Imam Ali Brigades" and "The Party of God" (Hizballah).

You can engage in conspiracy theories about the "plot" against you through your friends in Russian and western ("alt-right", and unfortunately, much of the "alt-left") propaganda outlets. But the real conspiracy has always been how the "democratic world" allowed you to employ a genocidal scale of violence in the 21st century.

  Syrians are a people who will remember how you invited invaders into your country to protect your unearned throne  

You can - quite literally - say that "millions" of Syrians rose up against you in 2011, though you claim all were sympathisers of "Islamic extremists", while actually sectarian militias from seven different countries fought your battles on the ground.

You can welcome the Russian and US warplanes (not all of us have forgotten that your regime repeatedly did just that in 2014, meaning that you were essentially welcoming the conspiracy against you, and exposing just how vacuous the theatre of conflict between you was), in jointly bombing your country's towns and cities, while sharing the same skies as your "anti-imperialist" air force. 

You can do that, while saying that you're defending the country's "sovereignty".


You can propagate distracting narratives of "US conspiracies", just like those other great anti-imperialists - Mubarak and Ali Abdullah Saleh - did, while western and US intelligence officials quietly visit your capital and 'coordinate' with your intelligence as you carry out your genocide.

You can proclaim you're part of the "resistance axis" in the region, while counting among your most cherished allies Israel's friend in Cairo, and the 2003 regime installed by the US next door in Baghdad.

You can proclaim a western conspiracy of "regime change" from one side of your mouth, but every now and then boast you 
acknowledge the reality of their (and your own) conceit. You can bank on people forgetting how your newspapers at the time welcomed the US intervention after it turned the narrative of the Arab Spring into a new "War on Terror".

You can count among your allies tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters who were simultaneously accused of committing sectarian/ethnic cleansing under US aircover under the catch-all umbrella of the "war against IS". Their "resistance" leaderships asked for US help, claiming they'd "never been an enemy of the US".

Not unlike you, your friends intermittently make such statements, albeit quietly, when they need to send "rapprochement signals" in select interviews with western media outlets, as they repeat the routine bluster necessary for domestic propaganda.

You can spin the myth that your regime - which kept a ceasefire with Israel for 40 years, invaded Lebanon against a Palestinian-leftist uprising with the encouragement of Henry Kissinger (and on the same side as Israel), joined with the US against Iraq in the First Gulf War, tortured prisoners on the CIA's behalf during the War on Terror, and sold out the resistance to the US occupation in Iraq once its relations improved with the Obama administration, - is one being punished for its "resistance".

  You boast of the empty 'victories' brought to you by the intervention of at least five official states  


You can hope that your family name, meaning "lion" - though in reality, a clan nickname adopted by your grandfather - fits the image of a populist "family of resistance". You can hope that people forget your father was the minister of defence when he broadcast an (in)famous communiqué declaring the fall of Golan, hours before Israeli troops entered it. Or that they forget he was later stripped of his authority by his own party for abandoning the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1970. And you can certainly hope that they forget how your pro-Zionist grandfather was a supporter of the French colonial mandate, condemning the Palestinian resistance.

You can bank on your "anti-imperialist" supporters not knowing (or ignoring) your regime's effective public recognition of Israel in the 1990s, or the secret negotiations that were cut short by the "conspiratorial" 2011 uprising.

You can bank on people not going through Wikileaks to find the cables that demonstrated your willingness to sell out 
Hamas, Iraqi Ba'athists and even Hizballah as part of a normalisation process with Israel which would come with additional benefits from the West.

Read more: Four killed as 'violent' air raids pound Syria's Idlib

You can bank on people trying to believe that Obama was "weak", rather than him having 
no strategic interest in permitting the dismantling of such a collaborationist regime, however genocidal it may be.

You can claim that the US is really out to get you, despite the fact it's launching more than 15,000 airstrikes on your country's territory, more than 99 percent of which targeted your enemies.

You can spread propaganda campaigns against civil defence workers, who save civilians from your airstrikes
and those of your US and Russian friends with whom you share Syria's skies.

You can bank on the voices of the people of Idlib and Raqqa - who saw through any illusion that you and the "US imperialists" weren't coordinating - not reaching the ears of western audiences.

You can bank on few people knowing that there has been no government in history that has used its airforce inside its borders for as long and a sustained period as you have. 

You can bank on how the PR "conflict theatre" helped conceal US support for your foreign militias in Deir az-Zour - and even in Palmyra, only months after you were reported to have gassed the place.

  Syrians know just how much of a vacuous and insecure shell of a leader you are  

You can bank on that same conflict theatre helping conceal when "US imperialists" authorised an airstrike by your "anti-imperialist" airforce against local rebels, after they had the temerity to fight the foreign invaders you brought into their territory.

Ultimately, you can boast of the empty "victories" brought to you by the intervention of at least five official states - Russia, Iran, Iraq, the US and Egypt - and rabid sectarian militias from at least three more - Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan - to fight the battle against your enemies.

You can boast about taking seven years to defeat local populations largely armed with Kalashnikovs and 
home-made rockets against your tanks, planes and foreign armies.

You can do all these things and more.

But you'll never break this people: A people who, for all their suffering, know just how much of a vacuous and insecure shell of a leader you are.

A people who will remember how you invited invaders into your country to protect your unearned throne, instead of maintaining a modicum of self-respect by going into exile once your army was decimated.

A people who know how you inherited everything in your life, including the presidency,  while disparaging those who've struggled every day before rising up for a better future for their children, many in in the poorer areas of the country that you and your business clique marginalised and impoverished.

A people who know how you went so far as to 
support refugee bans by racists against your own countrymen and women, unabashedly encouraging Europe (on your Trump-style Twitter, no less) to turn into a fortress against them.

A people who know you're the kingpin of the racists, warmongers and Islamophobic bigots, even in a region full of clients and despots.

And above all, Syrians are a people who, whatever happens, will always see and remember you as a traitor.

Omar Sabbour is an independent Egyptian writer and activist.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.