Can President Assad Cleanse His Corrupt Regime?
"People are looking for security forces who will not treat the people like animals." So said Daeiri el-Eiti last night, a Syrian activist, summing up the thoughts of his country. He was right. In Banias, in Latakia, in Homs, in Aleppo, in Deraa, even in Damascus itself, it is the same thing. As a friend of Bashar al-Assad, the President, said last night, "Bashar is like Fukushima. He is irradiated."
Is this true? Can this be the end for the Ba'ath party of Syria, the very end of the "Renaissance Party" of the country which Bashar's father Hafez supported? Is this the end of the Syrian security forces? It seems incredible, but it looks as if all Bashar's dutiful offers of generosity – an end to the state of emergency, for example – have failed. There are those in Syria who say it is over, that there is nothing Bashar al-Assad can do to save his regime. We shall see.
The security forces – and we shall use the word "security" in quotation marks from here on – are fearful. There are long histories of torture and executions behind them and there are many within the military security apparatus inside Syria who are fearful of a riposte. For many years, the torture regime has imposed the most terrible revenge upon opponents of both the President and his father. There was the "German chair" which broke the back of opponents and there was the "Syrian chair" which broke their backs more slowly.
The current President knows all this and has tried to bring it to a halt. Largely, he has been successful. His regime has largely proved to be humanitarian. But he has not been a successful leader. In his desperate attempts to persuade Syrians that he can control his country, he has accused America, France and Lebanon of being responsible for the violence of demonstrators in his country.
Nobody in Syria believes this. The idea that Lebanon – let alone America and France – can cause demonstrations is ridiculous.
The problem lies, as Mr Eiti says, in that Syria remains a dictatorship and that Assad remains a dictator. His failure to rid his own family of the corrupt men within it (I am speaking of his uncle in particular) is the main problem for the regime. This is not a Gaddafi-corrupted government. This is not a Mubarak government. This is an Alawi regime – and essentially a Shia regime – which has been corrupted by its own family. The Assad family knows what it must do to cleanse the family name. Can Bashar do it? Does he have the power to do it? This is all that matters now if he is going to save his regime.