Over 600 people, including clergymen, MPs, political figures, and army officers, have attended the swearing-in ceremony of Bashar Al-Assad at the presidential palace in Damascus. He is now serving a fourth 7-year term of office after beating two little-known candidates in the May presidential election with 95.1 per cent of the votes cast in government-held areas.
"The election has proven the strength of popular legitimacy that the people have conferred to the state," said Assad during his inauguration speech. "It has discredited the declarations of Western officials about the legitimacy of the state, the constitution, and the homeland."
Syrian opposition groups described the presidential election as "illegitimate and a sham" and called the inauguration a "silly charade". Regional and international monitors stressed that the election result was not legitimate and did not represent the Syrian people. They pointed out that Assad's new term starts with the ongoing killing of Syrians and an unbearable economic crisis. News agencies have reported that the Assad regime shelled the village of Serjeh in north-west Syria, killing three children and their mothers, and wounding many others.
Moreover, Assad was sworn in as president while more than half of Syria's population is either internally displaced or has refugee status. The pre-war Syrian population was estimated to be 22 million people, of whom 6.7 million are now internally displaced and living in very poor camps. A further 5.6 million are refugees in neighbouring countries, the US and Europe.
Tens of thousands of Syrians are missing and the country's infrastructure is devastated. One monitoring group has calculated that 387,118 Syrian citizens were killed by the Assad regime between March 2011 and December last year. A further 205,300 others are missing, presumed dead. This, remember, is at the hands of the regime led by the man who "won 95.1 per cent" of the votes cast in the farcical election.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, almost 90,000 civilians are believed to have been tortured to death in Assad's prisons. What's more, we will never know how many of the 2.1 million civilians who have been wounded will die of their injuries or have their lives changed forever as a result of what the regime has done to them.
Assad's inauguration speech did not mention the support that he has received from foreign powers ever since he cracked down with brutal violence against peaceful protesters in 2011. Prominent amongst such supporters are Iran and Russia, as well as Shia mercenaries from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries, along with Lebanon's Hezbollah.
"Assad stands up like a preacher during his 'inauguration'," said veteran political analyst Yaser Al-Zaatra, "but in the background of this tragicomic scene is a devastated country with a people plagued by famine, and millions of Syrians condemned to his prisons, exile and the grave. The media controlled by Putin and Khamenei has merely flirted with Assad's speech and its implications." He wondered why the regime's supporters don't feel ashamed by their hero's speech, standing and clapping at almost every word. "When the collective conscience is damaged and hearts are rusty, people are lost."
Iran and Russia are not alone within the international community in protecting the president who has killed or displaced more than half of his people; Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the US, and the West all called initially for him to step down, but then looked for reconciliation when they realised that the only viable alternative would be the Muslim Brotherhood or total chaos.
In the light of this reality, the people of Syria themselves understand that they have little option but to live like slaves under a brutal regime while the world stands by and watches. Freedom will be a distant dream as long as there are people in Moscow, Tehran, Washington, and Riyadh ready to grant a veneer of legitimacy to a president who kills, maims or displaces most of his country's citizens.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.