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Syria: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

Event organised by the LSE Middle East Center in London, on 21st January 2020.

Chaired by former Middle East Editor of The Guardian, Ian Black.

Book Launch "Assad or We Burn the Country" by Sam Dagher

Sam Dagher started his talk by explaining the meaning of the title of the book. Assad or We Burn the Country, is a slogan that the Assad Regime writes on the walls of the city they just looted and bombed. This slogan should be taken in a literal sense. If the population of Syria refuse to accept and adhere to the current regime, the army will burn their homes. This clearly represents the mentality and ideology of the Assad Regime.

The Birth of the Assad Regime The Assad Regime started when Hafez el-Assad came to power after the coup of 1970. At that time, the country had been used to having various leaders orchestrating coup after coup. Once he rose to power, the people believed in change and thought that the country would finally have some stability. Hafez introduced a severe command style economy inspired by the one Mao had installed in mainland China. The people of Syria had hope in this new leader, until they realized that his only goal was to consolidate his own power. The economy took a downfall and the government was accused of being corrupted. The regime was also deemed non-democratic after the Hafez had re-elected himself. As a result, people started to protest in the streets of Syrian cities. The President decided to attack the protesters and kill them. This proved how the regime was going to rule, by using terror whenever it feels threatened. The Assad family and the Arab Socialists Ba’ath party have been ruling over Syria with violence for fifty years, outlasting eight US presidents, added Sam Dagher. The current President, Bashar el-Assad came to power in 2000.

The Opponents

The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria was an organisation established in the 1945-46 by Mustafa al-Sibai, a close friend of the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It was a political party that wanted Syria to become an Islamic state. It had taken part in national politics until it was outlawed in 1963. Once Hafez el-Assad became President tensions grew even more as the Muslim Brotherhood questioned his power, this escalated with the massacre of 1982 in Hama. This event was triggered by the continuous rebellious acts of the brotherhood on the regime, Hama became a stronghold of this organisation. In response the Syrian President sent his troops to reconquer the city but by doing so he put in harm the lives of innocent civilians, around two thousands of them died and many more fled to other cities. The United States of America have long been intertwined in Syrian affairs. A strong moment was when the Western world demanded the execution of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein convicted for crimes against humanity. He was executed in 2006. This event sent a message to the Assad Regime who felt threatened and in response Bashar el-Assad started supporting the insurgency in Iraq. The insurgency were the Jihadis, they were taken to the border by the Regime’s security forces to fight the Americans. The US reacted and in 2007 a deal was made; the US would not contradict the regime’s power if they stopped supporting the insurgents. This did not last, tensions grew, and peaceful links ended in 2012 at the start of the Syrian Civil war. The Assad Regime used terrorism as a bargain to deal with the outside world and to control its population. The people of Syria are also considered as opponents, shocking events have occurred to make them obey the regime. In 2011, peaceful protesters were killed in the streets by the regime in Damascus, creating extremely violent scenes with snipers being posted on rooftops to shoot on the crowd. Such acts were invitations for outside actors to intervene, making Turkey and Qatar some of the funders of the rebels in Syria. They also want to show the people that the regime will not fall with peaceful protests but only with violence.

The World and the Assad Regime The world had now one choice to make, Assad or ISIS, the world chose Assad. Later when it had to choose Assad or Refugees, it chose Assad again. The reason is because he is considered to be the lesser of two evils. However, Dagher argues that this is not a viable long-term choice. As refugees will still exist, choosing Assad shows that the world accepts violent dictatorships. Therefore, this has an undyingly dangerous consequences as it contradicts the image that the international community portrays, the one that protects human rights and democracies. He also wants us to think about the message it sends to other world leaders, “you can murder people and still stay in power”. In recent years human rights lawyers have tried to hold Bashar el-Assad accountable for his war crimes but each of these attempts have failed. The reason is because he is protected by the international community who refuses to let these accusations pull though. Nevertheless, if the Assad regime falls, it will not be the final problem the world will have to deal with because Syrian people will then demand a new political system and financial support in order to rebuild their country.

A brief introduction to the structure of the book The book mentions the story of four different people and their relationship with the Regime. Firstly, Manaf Tlass a childhood friend of Bashar, with him Sam Dagher tells the story of the regime from the inside. The other characters are, a human rights lawyer, a painter and a young Syrian girl, Sally. These people and their experiences allow the reader to absorb different account of events.

Natalia Vasnier, Undergraduate King's College London

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