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If Kofi Annan thinks he has got anywhere in dealing with Assad, then he will be disappointed

Recently the UN peace envoy Kofi Annan travelled to Syria (after initial reluctance on the part of the Syrian government) to meet with the ever-embattled President and representative of his family Mafia - both a single person - Bashar al-Assad, the man who’s security forces (and they can conclusively be called his security forces under the legal responsibility invested in the President) have been killing peaceful protesters and  for months, spawning the latter to protect the former.

Every single agreement that was supposed to halt the violence has has next-to-no effect on the levels of bloodshed on the part of the security forces. The Arab League peace plan in November 2011 went completely unheeded by the Syrian government and their was still unabated killing in the form of around 250 deaths between the 2nd November (the date of the signing) and the 12th November.  The Arab League Monitoring mission in December 2011 merely delayed the time period in which the security forces would open fire on demonstrations - as soon as the observers were out of sight.

Every single plan proposed has either been rejected by Damascus in the name of the “sovereignty” of Syria, has been paid lip service in the form of meaningless rhetoric, or has been downright ignored. 

Now Mr Annan thinks he may have made a change. He has presented Mr Assad with a series of "concrete proposals" to curb the violence. Meaning that he has done very little that most other international actors have already done or tried to do. Condemn the violence, hand over some proposals (backed by next to no practical action  to ensure that the government enforces them) to the President, shake hands, leave.


Will his “concrete proposals” (which he has yet to elaborate on but will likely be nothing innovative) change anything?

Unlikely. The regime has shown time and time again that the only respect it has is for violence and violent methods of suppression. Notice how Assad was never talking about any kind of negotiated settlement until the armed resistance came about as a reaction to his brutality. On the 30th March he was rambling on about avoiding “subjecting the reform process to momentary conditions, otherwise it will be counterproductive”. The only negotiated settlement that came about (and the only significant development of this kind throughout the entire conflict) was after fierce Free Syrian Army resistance for days on end against  almost impossible odds, and government acceptance that they could not dislodge the fighters for the time being. This is evident from the fact that General Shawkat himself (Assad’s brother-in-law) was reportedly leading the ceasefire negotiations himself. A sure sign that the Assad’s were listening to force and force alone.

Now, after repeated rejections and ignoring of every single peace settlement or plan, Mr Annan believes that he can somehow solve this crisis through negotiation? He even talked of reforms (we all know how swift and progressive Assad’s reforms are) which would create a "solid foundation for a democratic Syria".

All this bloodshed and some still think that this rotten travesty of hereditary Ba’athism can be reformed? Have around 10,000 deaths not shown the answer to this question? Someone pull Mr Annan out of March 2011.

Talk of “reforms” and leaving Mr Assad with a list of "a set of concrete proposals" to end the violence will get zilch achieved, save an increase in hot air while more innocents are killed. Mr Annan would do better to try to gain better access to weapons for the Free Syrian Army to help them defend these innocents. They can’t fend off the Shabeeeha while hiding behind pieces of paper, can they?

Pieces of paper which will end up down the back of the Assad family sofa, alongside Asma’s credibility and the new “constitution”.


Scores of civilians have been killed since Mr Annan departed with no agreement in his hands whatsoever, because Assad says a solution is impossible as long as the “terrorist groups” continue throughout the country. Read between the propaganda lines and change “terrorist groups” to “the oppositon movement”.


Of course, Assad hopes to sign an agreement with some meaningless opposition sock puppets as soon as he has wiped them out. But if he thinks he can do so then he is extremely deluded. When in history have bullets crushed ideals?

The government only respects violence and will fall by the same road. Not by “concrete proposals” amounting to hot air and no tangible action.

Bashar al-Assad is either isolated from reality, deluded, or a liar - or all three

Recently, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad gave a speech to his embattled nation and to the world. In this speech he vowed to strike “terrorists with an iron fist”, again denounced the “external conspiracy” that he thinks (or says) is responsible for the current unrest in Syria, and declared: “We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders from inside the country”. He also proclaimed “When I rule, I rule because that is the people’s will, and when I leave office, I leave because it is the people’s will”  and vowed “victory” in-between the odd cheer from the rubber-stamp parliament members and Baath party loyalists.    


He later delivered another speech the next day, to a largely enthusiastic crowd of thousands. He could have made it into a spectacular event and crowd-surfed, microphone in hand, but instead stood shyly and unsure of his ground, speaking nervously, slowly, and typically devoid of charisma and full of his typical rhetoric. His wife and three children were in the crowd at the front, as a clear sign of solidarity.  

This points to one thing - a feeble leader, totally unenthusiastic about his job (he allegedly never had any political ambitions and tried to refuse the job of president) and isolated from reality, or at least in a state of extreme denial.   
Over the previous weeks, some guilt has maybe been evident, or at least a wish to distance him from the violence. In his previous interview with Barbara Walters in early December last year, he showed these signs when he ironically said: “If you don’t have the support of the people you cannot be in this position”. He went on to claim, when asked about the atrocities the military was blatantly committing against peaceful protesters: “They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government.”  

What on earth was he talking about?! He seems to be trying to say that the president and the government are not mutually exclusive. Then it gets better: “I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they are not my forces.”  

Not his forces?! Firstly, the President in Syria is legally head of the army, and therefore commands the functions of the military, orders operations, etc. To distance himself from the military is simply a lie. Saying they are not his forces is also incorrect; the government and the army are very cynically entwined (hence the low number of high-level defections in the ranks of the military) and he (at least in theory) is the supreme commander. In this hierarchical structure, the military is not allowed to deploy anywhere without orders from the highest chain of command. Who could that be?   

 Even hypothesising or speculating that Assad may only be in command of his army in theory (his more openly murderous brother Maher appears to enjoy some influence) and that commanders and members of the government have more influence, his labelling the army as under control of the government also fails to exempt him from the massive and undeniable shadow of responsibility which hangs over him. The President is also the supreme head of the government, hence the rhythmic Ceausescu-esque clapping and slavish eulogies given to him before speeches in the powerless parliament.   
He (effectively) blames the government, he blames “individuals” in the army and security forces who have made “mistakes”, he blames an “external conspiracy” - everyone is to blame but himself, even when all the footage, government structure, bureaucratic procedure and all manner of evidence is against him. This is a clear (relatively unspoken) indication that he knows the disgraceful nature of the oppression and wants to keep a respectable distance from it.  

If you want to look more deeply and look back over his ten years in power, you could be forgiven for regarding all this as one part of one long-running cynical ploy that Assad has been playing over the years. To claim reformist credentials, and yet when the repression kicks in to be able to keep a respectful distance from it all and make himself look like a leader with good intentions but held back by reactionary men in his government.   

It may well be the case; he may be a mere puppet of his family and ministers, hence the incoherent attempts to absolve all responsibility. However it has been reported that the country is run by the Assad family like a personal fiefdom, and the leadership is collective. There seems to be some truth in this. A Damascus resident said: 

"The protests will not go away and the regime is finished," says one Damascus resident who has taken to the streets in protest. "But the family’s gradual detachment from the people and its arrogance means they will be the last to realise it." 

But another statement made seems to give an ominous hint that it may not be like that at all. He ominously declared in the rambling, incoherent speech: “It will end when the Syrian people decide to turn into a submissive people”.This was a small slip-up but a hugely revealing one. For a second he dropped the charade of the conspiracy-theory obsessed president, and directly referred to the Syrian people, telling them that they must be submissive to end the “conspiracy” (A.K.A. the repression).  
He is basically saying: "Stop protesting and I’ll stop shooting". 
So now we see a picture suggesting he may be a liar. Subtle hints, but telling hints. He’s probably lied to himself so much that he now believes it. Dictators in regimes such as these tend to surround themselves with flatterers and sycophants who tell them what they want to hear and eventually isolate them from reality. A 2009 US diplomatic cable said:   
"Bashar’s vanity represents another Achilles heel: the degree to which USG [U.S. government] visitors add to his consequence to some degree affects the prospects for a successful meeting.”   

More convincing evidence comes from his official biographer via the Guardian: 
"[Bashar] changed over time from a well-intentioned man into someone who believed the propaganda and praise of the sycophants surrounding him," said David Lesch, an American academic and Assad’s official biographer.”    
Now we have a somewhat accurate picture. A picture of an insecure, unenthusiastic, isolated and vain man who dislikes his job and is caught in between a rock and a hard place and maybe feeling some regrets. More likely a desperate-instinct of self-preservation, typical of all dictators. His end will be no different.

Why do dictatorships violently attack peaceful protesters? Read below…


The vicious cycle continues...Throughout the Arab Spring one shocking image emerges the most: armed government troops/thugs gunning down peaceful protesters in the streets, beating them, making arrests, torturing them in custody (often to death) and so on. But why? These people are unarmed you say, no threat at all. Here’s why:  
  • Delusions. Dictators often start to believe their own propaganda (Gaddafi and Ceausescu seem to have made that mistake) and believe that all their people love them. When they see them protesting they cannot (and will not) believe it, and they look for explanations in their warped minds: “armed gangs”, “terrorists”, “thugs”, you name it. They genuinely believe that. Hence (since many of them believe in being brutal and strong) they believe they have to fight (what they believe is) fire with fire. If they have surrounded themselves with yes-men and sycophants who tell them what they want to hear over the years, then this is very likely (Ceausescu can again be offered as an example).
  • Bewilderment. The curtain of fear they have created has made their people docile; too fearful to protest or speak out. Once they do, the government is baffled. How do they deal with it? All too often they see the climate of fear is broken, and panic, thinking excessive force will restore it.  
Little do they realise that the more force they use, the more the people will be determined to oust them, and that the climate of fear (once lifted) will never return. Dictators have signed their own death warrants throughout history by using excessive force against those speaking out; Ceausescu in 1989 (many agree if he had entered into dialogue with the people he could have salvaged something), Bashar al-Assad in 2011 (he is now faced with an armed opposition and protesters who frequently chant: “The people want the execution of the president!" who had previously only wanted reforms), the Tsar of Russia (his army turned against him), etc. The more bullets they shoot, the more ink they put into the pen that signs them off into the dustbin of history.    

Often, these dictators don’t even have riot police or any form of security forces with crowd control skills as they have never had to put up with any kind of mass public demonstration/anger (for the reasons above) and so they use the army or police force, often with live ammunition as they feel they have no other alternative. Another way in which they sign their own death warrants.  
  • If they know the truth. Often these dictators know very well what they’re doing and deliberately order offensives against people. The sort of dictators that are notorious masters of intrigue and manipulation (such as Gaddafi and Saleh) who will make concessions, sign agreements (only to promptly back out again at the last minute), play the opposition off against each other to weaken it, and generally do anything to keep themselves in power. They will use the “carrot and stick” method, but generally make excessive use of the stick.   
  • They respect only force. Many of these dictators came to power using brutal methods and tactics and have no compassion or humanity for those who do not use force. It’s like they expect them to as they genuinely do not know any other means of expression. Hence why so many dictatorships (such as Gaddafi’s now fallen dictatorship and Assad’s falling dictatorship in Syria) cannot be toppled by peaceful means; they will never agree to peace, dialogue, reform, etc because they only respect violence. They will live by the sword and die by the sword.  
  • They may simply be power-hungry/mad. In the words of John Dalton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” They love their lucrative and privileged positions and will not give them up in a hurry, so they respond with deadly force in their greed and defensiveness.
Whatever the reasons behind it, they all are fools in these instances. The vicious circle cannot work indefinitely. You cannot indefinitely keep people down with violence. Opinion thought and voice can never be crushed, even with tanks and bullets. Soldiers and security forces cannot be forced to shoot at their families, and if they can it cannot be indefinitely. Guns will turn back at them and they will die by the swords they live by. Such is the pattern of history. 
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