On Point: Syria: Father-Son Dictatorship Remains in Vogue


by Austin Bay
April 19, 2011

It may rank as one of the most ill-timed feature articlesever published. Peel away the gobs of glamor lingo, and Vogue Magazine's recentarticle lauding Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, islittle more than haut couture propaganda.

Vogue described Mrs. Assad as "young and very chic --the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," who "is on a mission... to put a modern face on her husband's regime."

But prose lipstick and cosmetic patois cannot camouflageSyria's blood-splattered legacy and its ongoing horror. Just as the Voguearticle appeared in late February, Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution began to shakeMr. and Mrs. Assad's regime. Two months later, Syria continues to quake. Theregime has killed around 200 demonstrators since the end of February, though noone knows for sure, since Assad's government has restricted access within thecountry.

Vogue kowtowing to Asma? Swank, baby. The BBC interviewinganti-regime protestors? Suddenly the Vogue mask drops and the Assad regime'shard face appears.

That hard face has quite a history. Troublemaking inLebanon, common cause with Iran and relentless war with Israel are part of thathistory. But the Assads' longest-running war has been against the Syrianpeople. Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, ordered the February 1982 massacre inthe city of Hama. Regime security forces murdered between 7,000 and 20,000people; Syrians I know claim that one day the mass graves will be excavated andthe 20,000 figure will be ratified.

Bashar took charge in 2,000, after Hafez died. He was afresh face with a bit of style. But like father, like son, the secret policeremained employed and the jails remained filled. Like father, like son, thebody count, inside and outside Syria, continued to mount. A U.N. investigationof the February 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Haririfound evidence of Syrian involvement. Former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddamlater told the German magazine Der Speigel, "I am convinced that the order(to kill Hariri) came from (Bashar) Assad."

Under Bashar, Syria continues to arm Shia Hezbollah andSunni Hamas. Hezbollah gives Assad a way to exert backdoor control over Lebanon.With Hezbollah and Hamas as allies, together Syria and Iran wage a war ofpolitical and economic attrition against Israel.

Bashar, like Hafez, wears the hard face well. Despite secretpolice intimidation and the mass deployment of security forces, however,demonstrations in Syria have not subsided. Still, 200 killed in 2011 isn't1982's slaughter of 20,000. What gives?

Videos of the protests, taken by Syrian activists, arecropping up on the Internet. New media may have given Bashar's regime pause.Bashar is clearly not repeating Moammar Gadhafi's mistake of threatening themass murder of dissidents. Bashar claims he will lift Syria's state ofemergency. It has been in effect since 1963 -- again, like father, like son.

Bashar, however, balances the carrot with a stick. Inexchange for ending the permanent emergency, he says demonstrators must ceaseand desist. He has almost accused Israel and U.S. of stirring the unrest.

StrategyPage.com recently reported that "Iran isapparently helping out, with security experts who have recent practice insuppressing public demonstrations ..." StrategyPage indicated theIranian-sponsored Hezbollah gunmen provide Syria with "some dependablemuscle against anti-Assad crowds."

Bashar al-Assad is likely pursuing a strategy of quietstrangulation instead of massacre -- so here the son differs from father inmethod, though not in goal. He will buy time to strangle his people bythreatening to ignite civil war in Lebanon or war against Israel -- two of hisfather's favorite tactics.

Meanwhile, Vogue tells us Asma recently visited Paris"to discuss her alliance" with the Louvre Museum. A museum? Herhusband's vicious regime ought to be tossed into the dustbin of history. 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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