Assad’s Speech: Rhetoric of Arrogance and Insensitivity

It was a highly anticipated speech. Bashar Assad finally spoke to the Syrian people after months of silence. His behavior during the turmoil has been rather odd, eccentric, and arrogant. It seems that Assad never once attended the funeral of any Syrian, not even those members of his armed forces that he claims were killed by the opposition’s bullets. He did not once, to my knowledge, visit an injured Syrian in a hospital.

Assad seems unfazed by all the bloodshed around him. He has not spoken to the Syrian people in months, yet, he found plenty of time to meet with the most insignificant of Lebanese politicians. He even found time to meet with Talal Arslan, a man who commands the support of some 15 percent of the 5 percent of Lebanese who belong to the Druze faith.

On style, Assad has not changed. He still seems flippant when he talks about the turmoil in Syria. He still cracks jokes and can smile and laugh easily. If Syria (all of Syria and not just his regime as he often claims) is facing such a diabolical plot, how can he so easily laugh and smile? How can he not appear somber all the time given the death toll?

Assad has an excellent command of the Arabic language (especially given the semi-literate and illiterate state of many Arab leaders), but he puts it to use to be defensive about basic facts. He still finds it difficult to give in to the demands of many people in Syria, if not most people in Syria. His so-called reforms drag on and are referred to one committee after another. Assad does not seem rushed, and he expects the Syrian people to wait, and to wait indefinitely. Maybe Assad expects his son (and heir apparent, Hafez Assad junior) to complete the reforms in due time.

At one point, he even expressed puzzlement at the suggestion that he should form a national unity government in Syria. He said that there is unity in Syria, unlike countries that are deeply divided. He seems too arrogant to at least concede that many Syrians want him gone, even if there are many Syrians who still support him (and this point has to be stressed given the nature of Western and Arab [Saudi and Qatari] propaganda in their coverage of Syria.) He just can’t seem to admit that the country is at least divided, but not unanimously in favor of his ouster as Al Jazeera would have it seem. He even said that the Cabinet in Syria includes people from different backgrounds and currents.

This reminds me of the story about the last meeting between Salah al-Din al-Bitar (one of the founders of Baath Party) and Hafez Assad (Bashar’s father). The meeting took place shortly before the assassination of Bitar at hand of terrorists working most likely for Rifaat Assad (Bashar’s uncle). According to the account that historian Hanna Batatu shared with me, Bitar went on for hours about the need for democracy and reforms in Syria. Hafez, as was his custom, listened quietly for hours before he responded calmly. He said: “But Salah, you have been absent for years now. Syria has indeed changed. And we do have democracy in Syria.” Bitar went back to exile expressing the hopelessness of the country.

Assad spoke of the conspiracy against Syria (there is indeed a conspiracy by Gulf regimes, Israel and the US against his regime), and yet he talks about the Arab members of the conspiracy very carefully and generally. He would not dare name or identify one of those Arab governments he was complaining about. His reluctance to name Saudi Arabia or Qatar points to his readiness to reach an accommodation under the table to save his regime. He attacked Arab regimes but left it unclear as to who he was talking about. Arab viewers knew that he was talking about Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries but he did not dare name them.

He invoked all the slogans about Arabism and pointed out that Syria has a long history of defending Arabism. Yet, he forgot that his own media has been promoting little regarding Arabism. Instead, they have been promoting far more concerning narrow Syrian nationalism. Why did Assad now remember Arabism? And why is his media still invoking the most vulgar and Lebanese-style manifestations of narrow nationalism?

The speech will go down as yet another defensive attempt by Assad to pretend that all is well. His talk about conspiracies was not matched by specific points. His unwillingness to identify the conspiring Arab regimes by name reveals an obsession with saving his throne. The uprising in Syria continues while the conspiracy (led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the latter recently receiving enormous praise from Hillary Clinton) against the Syrian regime expands. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are trying to reshape the region in the service of US/Israeli interests. They are unflinching in their willingness to pose as guardians of Arab uprisings while guarding their own repressive unrepresentative regimes. The Syrian people are caught between the various conspiracies.

While the main camps in Lebanon are willing to use the Syrian people as fuel for their sectarian schemes, the GCC countries see the Syrian people as nothing more than tools for their own agenda. Who will stand up for the Syrian people? Certainly, not the Syrian regime and not the Syrian National Council which has become an official tool of Qatar and the GCC.

Comments

I don't think Assad was speaking to his detractors. The gist of what he said - directed at his supporters - is that a phase in the Syrian crisis has ended, by the noisy, and seemingly permanent fallout between the Muslim Brothers 'National Council' and the 'National Coordination Committee.'

This leaves the internal Opposition groups, as opposed to the Paris- and London-based two. It was reported, that Assad has negotiating with them since mid-December. Some may have agreed to join the coalition government he proposes, and the speed of its formation, early in February, certainly suggests some initial agreements.

I am not an observer of Assad and presume that he probably was "arrogant," but next day he appeared amongst the Damascene crowed with his family. Some of the photos suggests that he probably was not that arrogant. But really, politically, this aspect has a miniscule fallout, if anything.

One has to admit, though, that his handling of the crisis brings to mind his father's capabilities. So far he appears to have the upper hand, with his regime intact and the Syrian institutions functioning normally, while he is assured somehow that monitors would vindicate his claims, and already some, regarding the 'armed demonstrators' were! He must be credited as well with a master political stroke in accepting the Arab League monitors. It clearly destabilised his opponents, who obviously strongly believed that he will reject the deal, and thus hasten the referral of the matter to the UN Security Council, as the Qatar Sheik desires.

I presume the Russians were amongst the advisers who urged him to accept the monitors. This suggests that the advisers to the Qatar Sheik should immediately be fired. They obviously opined that even if the Qatar Sheik accepted all Syria's modifications to the terms of the Arab League proposals, Assad will still reject it. So the Qatar Sheik went along with the Syrian demands, but they Syrians then agreed to the proposal!

I believe that Assad feels, or wants his supporters to feel that they won this round. That is why he urged his supporters to rally to win 'the next and final round,' if this Reuters report is reliable - and, as Dr. Abu Khalil reflected in his last column - Western news reports from Syria are not so always.

every other arab uprising you claimed that the 'Zionist Entity" was crying tears for losing yet another dictator yet now you claim there is a "plot" by the zionists against Syria. Are you flip-flopping or don't you believe Israel has any L-v for Assad the way you claim they did Mubarak and the others? And what, pray-tell is the "plot" anyway? Planning for a possible buffer zone in the Golan anticipating alawites that may have to flee violence if things take that turn? Its no different then what Turkey is anticipating in the north.

"Every other" were REAL uprisings, excluding Libya, about which As'ad has seen the reality soon enough. Of course, "buffer zone" is a code word for "intervention", and in such case Turkey is not better than Zionists (of course, As'ad has no illusions regarding Turkey rulers as well).

Mubarak was the great pal of USA and Zionists and they stood for him till the end and even beyond. VERY different from Syrian case.

Nobody seems to talk about his programme: new laws, new constitution, free elections, new parties, new media, etc.
It seems that when it comes to kicking the Syrian regime, this programme is irrelevant.
Bashshar and the Syrian media talk about mistakes being made and the need to put things right. Regardless whether they mean it or not, how many regimes (Arab or otherwise) make such 'confessions'?
My fear is that if this regime should fall, its replacement is going to be much worse. If you do not believe me, look what happened after the rotten regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed.

Because he talked this way 10 years ago. All dictators talk this way. It´s BS.

It's not that he didn't "dare" name the GCC countries. It's that he doesn't need to. Why are you so narrow with this analysis sometimes? Syria state TV has often named Qatar specifically by name, and that's good enough. Even Yousef Ahmad, Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, spoke publicly about Qatar PM Hamad in very undiplomatic language.

Then about the reforms, he gave a timeline for open parliamentary elections. You still haven't even acknowledged the new party law that is an integral part of the reform. At the end of the day though, the timeline doesn't matter because like Bashar said, those terrorists, GCC, and the west never cared about reforms, and he's right. In fact, the simple fact that reforms are taking place (whether or not you're too blind to see them or too deaf to hear of them), works against all those armed terrorists that call themselves peaceful protesters. If Bashar were to resign today, the crisis in Syria would not stop, but could even get worse.

Now about Arabism, you're really trying to say Bashar forgot about Arabism? That's just too funny. You just have to go to a Syrian school to know you're wrong. All people of Arab birth can enter Syria without visa restrictions. All Arab citizens can study for free in Syria's schools. Again, if you watch Syrian TV, no matter how much time Syrian nationalism takes up on the broadcast, Arab nationalism is not far behind, even with the current behavior of the Arab League.

Finally, I would just like to remind you how when you wrote about that no-body GCC-backed Marzouqi, you said "he mentioned Palestine." Where is the part in this article where you write Bashar al-Asad "mentioned Palestine"?

"He just can’t seem to admit that the country is at least divided, but not unanimously in favor of his ouster"

In fact, he admitted precisely this in his interview with Barbara Walters - it's 10 or 15 minutes into their conversation. She asks if he thinks he's supported by the people: he responds that he's only supported by a minority, and there's another minority which opposes him, while the majority of the Syrians are "in the middle".

Not only is this more or less the truth, it's also a groundbreaking statement for a Syrian president, and a first-ever departure from the '99% support' propaganda fiction. I've never heard anything similar said by a Baathist Syrian official before, but here it was straight from the president himself, that he only has minority support and relies on a passive majority.

Unfortunately, Walters failed to understand the distinction, and kept repeating that she didn't believe he had the majority behind him. A more attentive reporter, or one more tuned to Syrian rhetoric, could have made a very interesting moment out of that, if s/he had called Bashar on his statement.

Apart from that, I largely agree with your view of his speeches. Not only does he come off as flippant and detached, but he also cannot seem to ever be forceful, clear, concise and to the point. Syrians expect him to admit errors and suggest strategies, especially his supporters (his opponents don't really care anymore). But instead he goes off into these endless musings on the meaning of words like 'reform' or 'support'...

It's really self-destructive, since he keeps wasting chances to rally supporters. The fact that none of his subordinates has apparently told him to get his act together says something about how poorly the Syrian system works.

The charge that his speech is detachd and arrogant may be attributed to the fact that he insists on Speaking classical or standard Arabic instead of speaking in the Syrian dialect which in this situation would have been more appropriate. If one speaks with his wife in classical Arabic, she would rightly feel that he is detached and has no feeling. The charge of detachment and arrogance would have been harder to make if he had expressed his sentiments of belonging to the people in the language of the people.

I think it has more to do with the personality and upbringing of Bashar than the classical Arabic ( Listen to the mufti http://youtu.be/UyiMBJwReqg and then tell us if there is anything wrong with the classical Arabic. ) Bashar is not a passionate person by nature and his face lacks expression. One can not expect a stone to cry or to show various emotions. I wouldn't say that he is arrogant.

Why did Assad now remember Arabism?

1) Since the Arabs kicked him out from the Arab league he was trying to remind them, as he did, that the Arab league without Syria is worth nothing.

2) He wanted to make clear to ' the Arabs ' ( of the Gulf ) that actually Syria is not an Arab country by blood hence the relationship of the Syrians with ' the Arabs ' is cultural and not racial. In other words Bashar was saying: if you do not like us, it is ok, we are not even like you.

"Yet, he forgot that his own media has been promoting little regarding Arabism. Instead, they have been promoting far more concerning narrow Syrian nationalism."

Bashar didn't forget the activities of his own media. His Lebanese style speech on Arabism ( we are Arabs but .... ) is a perfect example of how aware he is of the activities of the Syrian media.

So if you are nor arabs by Blood. What are you than. Persians?

They are Sumarians, Babalonyians, Assyrians (Aramaic is still spoken in many villages in Syria) hence the lighter skin tone and features. If you want to see what a "true" Arab looks like, go to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

He did actually visit the victims. A smile search on you tube will show you the visits.

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