Modernizing tyranny in Syria

A month and a half after I reported a telling wobble in the regime of Syria’s Bashar Assad, the WaPo has noticed.

Beset by U.S. attempts to isolate his country and facing popular expectations of change, Syrian President Bashar Assad will move to begin legalizing political parties, purge the ruling Baath Party, sponsor free municipal elections in 2007 and formally endorse a market economy, according to officials, diplomats and analysts.

Assad’s five-year-old government is heralding the reforms as a turning point in a long-promised campaign of liberalizing a state that, while far less dictatorial than Iraq under Saddam Hussein, remains one of the region’s most repressive. His officials see the moves, however tentative and drawn out, as the start of a transitional period that will lead to a more liberal, democratic Syria.

I repeat what I said in my earlier post:  even token moves toward democracy are a tribute to President Bush’s freedom policy, which is forcing Middle East tyrants down a path that is uncomfortable to their vanity and may well be dangerous to their authority.  That said, we shouldn’t expect too much from Assad’s June party congress.  One dissident quoted in the WaPo article called it the “modernization of authoritarianism.”  Certainly, Syrian blogger Amarji, who originally held hopes, has grown increasingly cynical:

A few days ago, the President issued a special degree inviting the Syrian Social National Party to join the National Progressive Front, as assortment of socialist, communist and Nasserist parties already cannibalized and marginalized by the Baath Party.

But the “new” party now invited in is not actually the real thing. It is only a schismatic movement within the SSNP, represented by a deaf 84 old man who reportedly slips in and out of senility ten times in the span of ten seconds. So, this is how the regime is planning to reform itself. [ . . .]

So, even if new faces should emerge during the upcoming Congress, old ways and patterns will continue to dominate and dictate.

My all-time favorite blogger, from the Middle East or anywhere, Karfan of Syria Exposed, has an even dimmer, and more profane, view of the situation.

Every day Karfan goes to work, he has to be tortured hearing about the upcoming big event that became the talk of the year this year: The Baath Party Regional Convention. So much rumors and talks that gives Karfan headache to hear and see people talk about as if it is going to be the Big-Bang of Syria. The Baath will change its name, the Baath will change its objectives, the Baath will allow political life, the Baath will get rid of all the old guard, King Lion the 2nd will reshuffle and clean the Baath party and so on and so on.

In order for a party to do all of this shit, it has to be a Political Party. Karfan wonders when in monkey’s name this “Thing” became a real party. Yes, granted we call it “The Party”and “Baath Party” but these are mere names of some “thing” that exists and we had to call it a name. It does not mean anything like a political party or any political or organizational entity. It just exists around us and between us like that black-cloud of pollution on top of Damascus and Banias, like the sewage stink, or like the Mukhabarat’s Peugeot white cars. “Baath Party”, “People’s Assembly”, “Cultural Center”, and “People’s Army” are just names of things that had nothing to do with those names.

“King Lion the 2d” is of course Bashar Assad, who inherited the Baathist “throne” from his father.  The WaPo article reports that Syrian intellectuals have lost much of their fear of speaking out.  I note, as a historical fact, that bloggers Amarji and Karfan have preceded them in the hierarchy of courage:  they have been telling truth before Assad’s fiasco in Lebanon, before the party congress was announced, before there was much hope.

That they are now joined by others suggests that the results of the congress are ultimately unimportant.  Something has thawed in that long-frozen country, and no amount of posturing or “modernizing” will put the pieces back in place.



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