“He was a man seeking power. He would do anything to achieve his goals, regardless of anyone. Even if you were a close friend he’d send you to jail. Or even kill you in order to implement his will.”
Though former Baath party leader Dafi Al-Jamaani is referring to Hafez Al-Assad, President of Syria from 1971 to 2000, he could easily be talking about his son Bashar Al-Assad who has unleashed a campaign of terror, mass murder and revenge across the country for almost three years in a ruthless attempt to maintain control of the country.
Still, a closer look at his father’s life, an account of which forms part of a new documentary Syria: The Reckoning by filmmaker Suhaib Abu Doulah, makes it easy to see where Bashar learnt his ruthless tactics from.
Because the period of time after Syria gained independence from France was rocked by several military coups, Hafez maintained a tight, iron grip on Syria in an attempt to stabilise the country. This meant crushing any form of opposition to himself or the Baath party – which he had joined in the mid-forties as a student activist and graduate of military academy – and transforming it into the “leading party,” or the only party.
Even before the late President took power, he was part of a small group of military officers, ‘the military committee,’ who set about implementing authoritarian control. With a burning desire to restructure the state, society and economy they established emergency law, closed newspapers and banned political parties and movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood would become the most prominent and strongest opposition to the secular regime. In 1964 they took to the streets to denounce the Baath party, but were violently crushed. In the late 70s they launched a campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations against officers and Alawites, the minority which the Assads are part of.
A decade later, in the assault on Hama, Hafez tortured and executed members of an Islamist uprising in a three week siege that killed between 15,000 and 30,000 people. Because the regime did not differentiate between civilians and fighters, it was mainly civilians who died with a third of the city destroyed. “Hama was one of modern history’s most shameful massacres” says the narrator.
The Reckoning takes the viewer from Syria’s fight for freedom from France in 1946, through Arab nationalism, Baathism, a quarter of a century of military coups, to minister of defence Hafez Assad’s ruthless seizure of control and crushing of his enemies to the assumption of power by his son Bashar in 2000 when he died.
A little over a decade later, rallies have erupted against him. In a continuation of his father’s legacy he started by crushing the opposition with live bullets and when this didn’t work turned to mass murder, torture and the use of chemical weapons all of which have driven 2.4 million refugees outside of the country and cost tens of thousands of lives.
Syria: The Reckoning [part 1]
Syria: The Reckoning [part 2]