The Assads at war: killing and shopping | EditorialBy
The emails we have published this week show the supposedly reluctant dictator taking a personal interest in the Homs assault
On 5 February, Bashar al-Assad sent his wife Asma an iTunes file of the US country star Blake Shelton singing God Gave Me You. “I’ve been a walking heartache / I’ve made a mess of me / The person that I’ve been lately / Ain’t who I wanna be.” A day later his forces fired 300 rockets into Homs. And, contrary to what he said to Barbara Walters of ABC, they were his forces.
The emails we have published this week show the supposedly reluctant dictator taking a personal interest in the Homs assault, briefed in detail about the presence of European reporters in Baba Amr, and when to tighten the “security grip”. Lurching between self-pity, defiance and flippancy, Assad reveals himself to be no fool. He has independent lines of communication, keeping each part of his police-state security at arm’s length. He takes a tokenist view of reform and then mocks it in an email to his wife, referring to them as “rubbish laws of parties, elections, media”. In short, Bashar has learned his authoritarian ropes. Unlike the lyrics of the song, he knows exactly who he really is – his father’s son.
If Hafez al-Assad put down the Sunni Islamic uprising in Hama in 1982 with such brutality that it went down in history as the deadliest act of an Arab government against its own people, then Bashar is proving he can do the same in the internet age. He has grown in confidence as the uprising marks its first anniversary, and sending his forces into Daraa a year to the day after the uprising began there is no accident. Bashar has divided the UN. He has seen off a steady stream of international heavyweights, the latest being the special envoy Kofi Annan, without making a substantive concession. More than 8,000 people are estimated dead, unknown numbers have been tortured, and nearly a quarter of a million have fled their homes. Bashar can take stock: his family is still in power, his army has held firm, and the opposition is in disarray, unable even to make a show of unity. As he surveys the scene, what is to stop him thinking that he is prevailing?
The email correspondence sheds a fleeting light on whom Bashar consults: the political adviser to the Iranian ambassador is one port of call. A memo drawn up afterwards advises Assad to show appreciation for support from "friendly states". A Lebanese businessman with connections to Iran advises him not to blame al-Qaida for a twin car bombing in Damascus, because that will indemnify the US and the Syrian opposition. So much for Assad's claim to head a sovereign, independent state.
Few Syrians will be surprised that the Assads are fiddling while Rome burns. Nor will the sums involved in Asma’s Paris shopping sprees shock. This is not an Imelda Marcos moment. But the isolation of the Assads might give those around them pause for thought. Not those in their immediate circle, who are destined to share the same fate when the wheel of fortune turns once more. No, it is on the acquiescence of the Sunni businessmen in Damascus and Aleppo that the minority regime depends. And the middle class must be having serious doubts about where their future lies at this moment. Stable police states are good for business the world over. But unstable ones present a different proposition. Where and how to jump ship entails considerable risk and requires courage, especially since the opposition have shown so little capacity for reaching out beyond their local groups of support.
Western diplomacy fares little better. The US and British security establishments are so haunted by Iraq that there is no consensus about life after Assad – particularly as al-Qaida has emerged on the scene in support of the uprising. This may be the reason why even the French have stopped talking about arming the opposition. If dismantling the old regime sparked a civil war in Iraq, there is little appetite for repeating the same experience in Syria. Nobody has a plan to rescue this situation, and in the meantime, the Assads feel empowered to kill – and shop – at will.
from (author unknown)