Hazem Saghieh

How Bashar Assad Becomes a Symbol and Inspirer

Syrian president Bashar Assad is today both victorious and defeated. He was defeated by his own forces, but victorious through the forces of others. In other words, his authority, which has lost it legitimacy, has lost its ability to survive. It instead found in Iran and Russia the power to transform the artificial into natural and impose foreign factors on the internal scene.

The Assad case has not yet spread to other parts of the region. It may, if the revolts in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran are defeated. Only then will Assad and his case become symbols and inspirations of the current phase.

In Lebanon, it has become evident that the system of sectarianism and clientelism are on the verge of collapse, or are at least unable to continue without presenting serious concessions in the economy, laws and principles. The government has resigned. Two parliament sessions were aborted. The offers of the president and government have been repeatedly rejected. The attempt to appoint Mohammed Safadi as premier was born dead. Syndicates have started to champion the revolt. Banks have become targets of the protesters, who view them as crooks and thieves. The army is no longer completely in tune with the political authority. The resistance of Hezbollah ceased being the key to the fate of the nation and its future.

Above all, sectarianism is no longer the mentality that rules the country and dictates its fate. A competitor to sectarianism has emerged and it can no longer be ignored. Meanwhile, the current economic system is clearly no longer sustainable in Lebanon without introducing radical change. In other words, all attempts to restore the former Lebanon are doomed to fail.

In Iraq and in wake of the country’s massive wealth, its own protests seem to dwarf Lebanon’s by a thousandfold. Corruption, theft and youth unemployment have cost Iraq’s economy some 450 billion dollars since 2003. The affiliation to Iran has played a central role in this deterioration. This is summed up by my colleague Qassem al-Basri’s statements to al-Joumhouria website: “Iraq today is the primary market for Iranian products and goods, specifically the poor and cheap kind, at the expense of local Iraqi production that could never compete with the Iranian one. This has led to the closure of 4,000 factories and to 50,000 Iraqis losing their jobs.” Leaked documents revealed by The New York Times have also revealed the extent to which Iran controls Iraq’s politicians and just how much clout Qasem Soleimani has over them.

This reality is teetering and its representatives, specifically the prime minister, are clinging on to power and giving themselves 45 days to come up with miracles. The Iraqi youths are heroically and with their own blood declaring that they will no longer tolerate this reality. The regime, meanwhile, continues to kill them with weapons that are not restricted to tear gas. Their death is key to its survival.

In Iran, the authority is not cracked, but the economy is. Iran revolted in 2009 and 2017 and rose up again only days ago. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei blamed the protests on the enemies of the revolution and cut the internet across the country, plunging it in darkness and silence.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, of the Brookings institute, acknowledged that during the regime’s 40 years in power, it succeeded in improving infrastructure and basic services in the countryside against the Shah’s policies. Electricity, drinking water and health and education services outside of major cities led to a drop in poverty. This does not, however, negate official figures that reveal that 12 million people live in complete poverty. Some 25 to 30 million live in poverty, 14 percent of the population lives in tents and a third of city residents live in shantytowns.

American sanctions definitely played a role in tightening the noose around the regime, even though Iranian economist Hossein Raghfar Qadr claimed last year that their impact was limited to 15 percent of the economy. The rest of the economy was impacted by accumulating neoliberal policies and massive corruption. Unemployment is a major problem in Iran as some 25 to 40 percent of graduates do not have a job.

The system is therefore, not okay. It survival calls for drawing inspiration from North Korea’s rotten example and for upping the slogans of perseverance and resistance. Its survival calls for elevating Bashar Assad to the status of inspiring historical leader!