When the Wall Street Journal asked Bashar Al-Assad about the possibility of a revolution in Syria just months before its outbreak he replied, “Syria is not the same as Tunis.” Some analysts believed that what he meant was that Syrians are happy with their leadership and that the regime considers itself to be a leader of resistance in the Arab world, and thus there is no way that the people would revolt against it. Today the opinion is different, with new information showing that Al-Assad meant that his regime, unlike those in Egypt and Tunisia, would not allow a revolution to spread and evolve even if it broke out; that he was ready to kill it at birth by using live ammunition on the streets and destroying whole cities over the heads of their inhabitants.
In his first speech after the outbreak of the revolution, Al-Assad was clear about what he had said to the US newspaper. He pointed out that his regime had managed to beat all conspiracies, and that he considered the revolution to be yet another conspiracy; thus, he would put an end to the domino effect of the Arab Spring and turn it around. What we are seeing now, therefore, is not an arbitrary response but something that has been planned carefully since before the beginning of the revolution.
Many had argued, naïvely I believe, that if the Syrian president had gone to Daraa, the birthplace of the revolution, and apologised for what his cousin, Atef Najib, the head of political security in the city, had done, everything would have been over there and then. Matters would not, it is said, have progressed to the current catastrophic situation in Syria.
In other words, what Najib did to the people of Daraa was an individual’s error which could have been fixed with an apology. However, it is now believed that Najib was acting on the specific orders of Al-Assad. He did not pull out the finger- and toe-nails of Daraa’s children or humiliate their parents on his own initiative simply because the children anti-Assad slogans on school walls. Far from it. He was ordered to punish any activity, no matter how insignificant, severely. This was what Al-Assad meant when he told the Wall Street Journal that his regime is not as gentle as Tunisia’s.
Four months before the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, intelligence officials summoned a number of opposition figures to meetings where they were addressed by Tawfiq Younes, the Head of Internal Security in Damascus. He threatened them by telling them that he had strict orders from the president to shoot any Syrian who goes onto the streets to protest. The regime, he said, was ready to face any revolution, even if it had to destroy the country and kill hundreds of thousands of people in the process. Others have said that this means killing half of all Syrians if necessary.
The people cannot forget the presidential palace’s infamous slogan: “Al-Assad or we will burn the country.” It is clear, therefore, that there was a decision at the highest level to crush the revolution if it erupted. Al-Assad’s speeches confirm that he would deal with a revolution using iron and fire, just as Iran crushed its Green Revolution of 2009.
If Najib was really guilty and had really made a mistake, the regime would have dealt with him, just as it has dealt with countless others over the years. Kinship or close relationships with the president mean nothing when the regime feels that it is threatened. It is well known that it is ready to crush those closest to it if they are a threat. Look at how Bashar’s father Hafez Al-Assad dealt with his own brother Refaat when he stepped out of line; and how Ali Duba and Ali Haider were dealt with because of a word uttered before Bashar became president. Others have been assassinated for stepping out of line, but Atef Najib is still smoking his cigar at the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus with the older governor of Daraa, Faisal Kalthoum, because Al-Assad’s regime made a deal with Iran prior to the revolution; it would be dealt with the Iranian way.
This was clear from the first day of the Syrian revolution, when security officers used live ammunition on civilians and blamed “armed gangs”. The military option was obvious the chosen way from the very beginning. How, then, can we believe Iran and Russia as they advocate a political solution? They are pushing for this because the situation has not gone the way that the regime wanted.
Advocates of a political solution at this point do so because the plan to crush the revolution has failed miserably, and the regime is facing defeat. Any negotiations from hereon are intended to save Al-Assad. Do not forget, though, that Bashar Al-Assad and his allies wanted to crush the revolution from the first day and end it through a military option, but failed; so why do some people want to save them from failure?
Translated from Al-Sharq newspaper, 25 January, 2015
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.