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US News Bashar al-Assad, the autocrat who survived the Arab Spring

12:50  23 november  2020
12:50  23 november  2020 Source:   lepoint.fr

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Syrian President Bashar al - Assad has defied the odds and remained in power Louai Beshara When the Arab revolts that were sweeping the region and toppling autocrats like dominoes reached Syria "Assad knew how to play the long game," said the politician, who has often acted as a mediator

Bashar al - Assad of Syria is facing a serious challenge to his rule in the form of widespread political protest across the country. Simon Cox examines how instead of training to be an eye doctor in London he was thrust into the role of leader of an Arab state in the of a political storm.

  Bachar al-Assad, l'autocrate qui a survécu au Printemps arabe © Supplied by Le Point

Ben Ali, Mubarak, Kadhafi ... When the wave of Arab revolts swept over the region in early 2011, sweeping away one After another his autocrats, the days in power of Syrian Bashar al-Assad also seemed numbered.

A decade later, after losing control of most of Syria for a while, the strongman of Damascus remains in command. Against all odds, despite international isolation and at the cost of a devastating civil war.

When the pro-democracy protests begin in March 2011, the ability of UK-trained ophthalmologist Mr Assad and his Alawite minority to resist the regional tidal wave clearly raises questions.

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The Arab Spring unrests and revolutions unfolded in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, and in the rest of the region, some becoming violent, some facing strong suppression efforts, and some resulting in political changes.

But the endurance of "Bashar", who succeeded his father Hafez in 2000 after three decades of an iron rule, and his composure, combined with a myriad of favorable factors - hold on security apparatus, disengagement the West, decisive backing of Russia and Iran - allowed him to save his skin, analysts say.

"Years after the whole world demanded his departure and thought he would be overthrown, this same world now wants to be reconciled with him," said Lebanese politician Karim Pakradouni, who has long mediated between Damascus and the different Lebanese parties.

"Assad has played the long game".

"Without concession"

In the beginning? As elsewhere, demonstrations for dignity, freedom and democracy, in one of the most locked countries in the region.

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What is the “ Arab spring ” becoming? After three months of upheaval, repression and conflict, the democracy wave in the region, including Iran, is at a The protests that are now rocking the rule of the Assad family in Syria started because a handful of schoolchildren in a southern city scrawled words

Bashar al Assad . Similarly, the civil war in Syria that began in the aftermath of the Arab Spring lasted for several years, forcing many to leave the country to Yet, although ISIS has largely been defeated in Syria, the oppressive regime of long-time dictator Bashar al Assad remains in power in the country.

We are a little after mid-March, two months after the start of an "Arab Spring" which kicked out of power the Tunisian Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and the Egyptian Hosni Mubarak.

Bashar al-Assad does not procrastinate: the repression will be murderous, provoking a militarization of the uprising then its transformation into a complex war involving rebels, jihadists, regional and international powers.

In nearly ten years, the conflict has killed more than 380,000 people, including a large number of civilians, but also displaced and forced into exile more than half of the pre-war population (estimated at more than 20 millions). Tens of thousands of Syrians are imprisoned.

The vast majority of Syrians survive in poverty, hit by an economic collapse blamed by the authorities on Western sanctions.

Imperturbable, Bashar al-Assad is enthroned on a field of ruins. He maintained himself, while his forces control more than 70% of the territory after having chained successes, mainly thanks to Russian support.

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Syria: President Bashar al - Assad faced civil uprising against his rule that deteriorated into armed rebellion and eventual full-scale civil war. Still to this day, in countries affected by the Arab Spring , there is great division amongst those who prefer the status quo and those who want democratic

Bashar al - Assad in rare public appearance - Продолжительность: 1:49 Channel 4 News 397 748 просмотров. Syria's war: Who is fighting and why - Продолжительность: 6:46 Vox 7 752 012 просмотров. President Bashar al - Assad filmed driving himself to the Syrian civil war's front line

"He never wavered. He stuck to his positions, without concessions," said Mr. Pakradouni.

Loyal high command

Despite tens of thousands of defections, the Syrian army played a major role in its survival, according to the Lebanese politician.

"It made Assad an exception in what is called the Arab Spring."

In fact, in Tunisia and in Egypt, the army released Ben Ali and Mubarak. In Libya, the senior officers have turned against Muammar Gaddafi.

In Syria, "the military command remained faithful" because it had been drowned "by relatives of Assad and other Alawites", explains Thomas Pierret, of the Institute for Research and Studies on the Arab Worlds and Muslim.

The members of this religious minority close to Shiism "probably represented more than 80% of the officers in 2011 and occupied practically all the influential positions".

"The determination and the rigor" of Assad also weighed, estimates a Syrian researcher based in Damascus who requested anonymity. "He managed to centralize all the decisions".

The president bet on the sociology of Syria - divisions between Arabs and Kurds, differences between Sunnis, his Alawite clan and other minorities.

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"He benefited from the fear of chaos" among the Syrians but also "from the fear for the survival of his own Alawite camp", adds this Damascene researcher.

With the rise of the Islamists and jihadists, he posed as the protector of minorities, especially Christians.

Fragmented opposition

But also Bashar al-Assad has benefited from the absence of any credible political opposition, continues the Syrian researcher.

This point appeared fundamental when Assad became an outcast, several international capitals imposing sanctions against Damascus in 2011.

In 2012, more than 100 countries recognized a "National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces" as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

But despite international efforts, the opposition in exile and the rebels in Syria have failed to form a united front.

On the ground, the armed factions fragmented as the conflict evolved, while Damascus instrumentalised the rise of jihadist groups.

And he took advantage of the procrastination of the West at the time of militarily weighing on the conflict, the United States in the lead, scalded by the fiasco of the intervention in Libya.

A major turning point remains the about-face of President Barack Obama in the summer of 2013, when he gave up strikes at the last minute to enforce his "red line", after a chemical attack blamed on two nearby rebel areas in Damascus of the capital having killed more than 1,400.

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This weakened the capabilities of rebels in dire need of air cover in the face of relentless bombardment by Syrian and Russian air force. Over the years, Assad has become confident that no American aircraft will bomb Damascus.

Decisive Russian support

An international coalition led by Washington was launched the following year to support predominantly Kurdish fighters in their fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, including the atrocities of unheard-of violence and the succession of attacks aroused the fear of international opinion.

But, in 2015, it was Russia's turn to intervene militarily in Syria, to come to Assad's aid, decisive support.

Moscow "seized a historic opportunity to regain its superpower status by filling a strategic void linked to Obama's partial disengagement", summarizes Thomas Pierret.

Faced with Assad's "comeback", the Western countries, which once demanded his departure as a prelude to any solution, are looking for a political solution to the conflict, before the presidential election in summer 2021.

"The Syrian regime cannot be reintegrated into the international system, but neither can it remain excluded, ”said the anonymous researcher based in Damascus.

"This impossible equation risks leaving us in an inextricable situation".

In the meantime, the Syrian people will continue to pay the price, he said.

As for Assad, who at 55 is entering his third decade in power, he is expected to win his fourth term next year.

23/11/2020 09:30:58 - Beirut (AFP) - © 2020 AFP

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