Sunday, October 30, 2011


Bashar al-Assad plays devil's advocate
Published: Monday, Oct 31, 2011, 8:00 IST
By Andrew Gilligan
Place: Damascus | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
When you go to see an Arab ruler, you expect vast, over-the-top palaces, battalions of guards, ring after ring of security checks and massive, deadening protocol. You expect a monologue, not a conversation. Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, was quite different.

It was Friday, the main protest day in Syria: the first Friday since the death of Colonel Gaddafi had sunk in. But the man at the centre of it all, the man they wanted to destroy, looked pretty relaxed.

He thought the protests were diminishing. After they started, in March, “we didn’t go down the road of stubborn government. Six days after [the protests began] I commenced reform. People were sceptical that the reforms were an opiate for the people, but when we started announcing the reforms, the problems started decreasing ... This is when the tide started to turn. This is when people started supporting the government... [but] being in the middle is very difficult when you have this strong polarisation.”

For Assad’s critics — who have expanded steadily over the last seven months to include not just the protesters, but Britain, France, the US, the United Nations and now the Arab League — these statements are simply delusional.

“He has been talking about reform ever since he came to office [in 2000], and nothing serious ever happens,” said one of the protest leaders from the key opposition city of Homs. “Killing people is not an act of reform.”

In conversation he was open, even at times frank. “Many mistakes,” he admitted, had been made by the security forces —though no one, it seems, has been brought to book for them.

Comparing Syria’s leadership with that of a Western country, he said, was like comparing a Mac with a PC.

“Both computers do the same job, but they don’t understand each other,” he said. “You need to translate. If you want to analyse me as the East, you cannot analyse me through the Western operating system, or culture. You have to translate according to my operating system, or culture.”

“The first component of popular legitimacy is your personal life. I live a normal life. I drive my own car, I take my kids to school. That’s why I am popular. To live this way — that is the Syrian style,” he added.

No comments:

Post a Comment