Student: Cathy Zhang
Director: Russ Taylor
Is Bashar Hafez al-Assad going to step down?
The first protests of the Arab Spring occurred in Tunisia on 18 December 2010 in Sidi Bouzid. Mohamed Bouazizi protested police corruption and ill treatment by self-immolation. Its success sparked a wave of unrest in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen, then spread to other countries. By February 2012, governments have been overthrown in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia and Yemen. During this period of reginal unrest, several leaders announced to step down at the end of their current terms, such as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Jordan King Abdullah (Blight, Pulham and Torpey). According to the tendency of the Arab Spring, Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad is also in danger because of his political standing point. Is he going to step down in front of big pressure？Seeing from conprehensive aspects, I do not think Bashar Hafez al-Assad will be the same fate as leaders above. Syria‘s situation seems different. First, as for Bashar himself, he is well-known for some campaigns like dealing with introduction of different consumer technologies and anti-corruption campaign. He has also made changes in the ranks in Syrian institutions, central in bring computer technology and Internet access to Syria, as well as facilitating the introduction of mobile telephones. His
achievements and styles are welcomed and supported by most Syria people. Second, Syria‘s power structure and key positions, especially the military forces are held by the Assad family and its supporters. According to intention and preparation of the whole family, Bashar Hafez al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad. This gave Bashar stable political foundation and more weights on protecting the current government from rebelling down. Third, Bashar‘s oppositions are isolating and not strong enough to against the current government. Because main oppositions like the SNC and the FSA are found overseas and financed by foreign powers. They are not independent and also can not equal to Bashar‘s Baath Party. Fourth, considering Syria‘s strategic significance in Middle East, today Syria‘s turmoil is not only an issue of Syria itself or one of the Middle East, it is a political and diplomatic battlefield for power players in international society. Although Syria is now against by most countries leading by America and France, it also has friends including Russia and China and some countries among the Arab League. Fifth, foreign investors in Syria will also take actions in some international sanctions and issues to help Bashar.They need to protect their investments from wars and crises.
Syria‘s turmoil will not threaten the President Bashar Hafez al-Assad. First, as for Bashar himself, his achievements in managing the country have been welcomed and supported by its people. Prior to becoming president, Bashar made himself well-known for some campaigns like dealing with introduction of different consumer technologies. His anti-corruption campaign resulted in the fall of several leading personalities in Syrian society, like former Prime Minister Mahmoud Zoubi. This
earned him a lot respects in Syria. He has also declared he will lift restrictions having hindered Syrian media from employing the slightest form of critical journalism. He has also made changes in the ranks in Syrian institutions, central in bring computer technology and Internet access to Syria, as well as facilitating the introduction of mobile telephones. Comparing with other leaders in Middle East, Bashar has more appreciation and higher evaluation from common people. As we know, to any country‘s leader, people‘s supports are key factors for his governing the whole country. Due to people‘s supports anyone who wants to overthrow Bashar has to figure out a reasonable and legal excuse. To some foreign forces which want to interfere Syria‘s crises and gain profits at Syria people‘s expenses, overthrowing the current government probably may rise people‘s anger no matter in Syria and in the world.
Second, Bashar Hafez al-Assad will not step down is because he has a stable family-supported political foundation. As for the al-Assad family, it has ruled Syria since Hafez al-Assad became Syrian president in 1971 and established an authoritarian regime under the control of the Baath party. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar Hafez al-Assad succeeded him. Several close family members of Hafez al-Assad have held positions in the government since his rise to power, for example, Jamil al-Assad is parliamentarian and commander of a minor militia, Rifat al-Assad is formerly a powerful security chief. (Wikipedia) When the elder Assad died in 2000,Bashar was appointed leader of the Baath Party and the Army, and was elected president. On 27 May 2007, Bashar was approved as president for another seven-year term.( Tristam)
Due to Bashar‘s stable family-supported political foundation, any opposition who wants to overthrow Bashar must consider his final fate if it is envolved in wars. This does not mean Bashar will be safe forever, this advantage can give him more weights and more time to solve his difficulties. If the unity of Assad family is split, nobody will know what kind of country Syria will become and also the fate of Bashar. So to Bashar , the most important thing he has to do is to keep the Assad family as a whole.
Third, Bashar‘s oppositions are not united and do not have strong power to against the current government. Many opposition are founded abroad and those founded in Syria are isolating and weak. There are also conflicts among foreign powers which supporting abroad-found oppositions due to their different standing points and benefits. According to Bassam Hassad, director of Middle East Studies at George Mason University claimed, the main opposition abroad-Syria National Council was totally dependent on external powers and founding, and also became far less transparent and insistent on their actual plight, it was instead almost exclusively focusing on what will give the SNC increased support internationally and regionally. In late July 2011, a web video featuring a group of uniformed men claiming to be defected Syrian Army officers proclaimed the formation of Free Syrian Army. However, the FSA has no central leadership. As deserting soldiers abandoned their armored vehicles and brought only light weaponry and munitions, FSA adopted guerilla-style tactics against security forces inside cities. There are also other oppositions just like above two but have only a few members. Therefore, no matter in
arm equipments or in people number, if the oppositions do not unit together and make an agreement, they are very difficult to succeed in overthrowing the current government.
So from this point of view above, Bashar Hafez al- Assad have few challenges from the inside of Syria, however, seeing from the outside, Bashar Hafez al-Assad has to face a bit more pressure in dealing with international issues. Due to Syria‘s geographical and geopolitical importance in Middle East，Syria has been a political and diplomatic battlefield for the power players. In terms of its foreign investments, Syria is also facing challenges in protecting foreign investors‘ benefits and interests. But to Basher, with foreign investors‘ participation, Syria‘s crises will be more complicated and harder to interfere for some power players, this will give Bashar more chances to resolve his problems.
Fourth, Syria‘s convulsion lies not only with its current socio-political crises, but also in its geo-historical position, particularly with Turkey. No matter in geography or in history, Turkish-Syrian relations will be crucial in solving Damascus‘s populist crises.(Woolley) According to Military of China force comment, ‖Syria is often described as ‗the worl‘s largest small country‘.‖ Situated in the heart of the Middle East‘ Fertile Crescent‘, and bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Syria stretches across Turkey‘s southern border, down along Iraq‘s western frontier, before reaching its contentious boundary with Israel, near the Sea of Galilae. The earliest known civilizations spread across the Syrian heartland, fostering some of the world‘s oldest
cities. The most important east-west trade routes passed through Syria, connecting India and the Orient with Europe and North Africa (Caruthers 1918, pp.157-58). Syria enjoyed tremendous wealth from the Age of Antiquity through the Renaissance.
Due to Syria‘s strategic significance, it has been a political and diplomatic battlefield for ―big‖ countries such as America, Russia, the UN and France, and the Arab League . To Bashar, he can make use of their different standing points and get help from their disagreements and disputes. In political and diplomatic battles on Syria, situations are also good to Bashar.
For America, no matter in history or today, America does not like Bashar at all. From 2005 to 2010 America has been supporting the opposition of Syria over $12 million. And on Feb 6, the US government closed its embassy and withdrew personnel from Syria after Bashar sent tanks to the southern city De La. It reacted quickly by signing an executive order on 29 April 2011 imposing sanctions on three Syrian officials. Additional sanctions were issued on 18 May targeting President Assad and six government aides, and Syrian oil imports were banned on 18 August. The US also joined several European nations, including the UK, France and Germany in calling for Assad to step down on 18 August. On 24 November, the American aircraft carrier ‖George Bush‖ had entered into the Mediterranean Sea and also the Sixth Fleet started patrols near Syria. However, although the two countries‘ relationship is tense, whether America is going on fire is also a question for President Obama. Syria is the core country in the Middle East and all of its problems. Its
supporting Palestinian armed factions Hamas are really important to Palestinian and Israelis peace. Syria has a close friendship with Iran and if the two form an alliance in wars, Iran can attack Israel through land. Pulsing Syria supporting the Anti-US militants in Iraq threatened its stability. Therefore, if America fires on Syria, it must prepare for the worst results of its strategic arrangements in the Middle East.
In the UN, France has the deepest connections with the Central Eastern Mediterranean League, he hoped to resume diplomatic relationships with Syria but failed. On 8 November the Foreign Minister indicated to admit the validity of Syria opposition. National Council and on 28 France firstly advised military intervention on Syria.(Amal Saad-Ghorayeb) Other countries in the UN acted similarly as France by supporting Syria‘s oppositions. From above, we can see France does not care who is in the position in Syria but its own oversea‘s interests. When Bashar can not meet France‘s requirements, it has to support Bashar‘s oppositions to exchange.
Russia has taken efforts to protect Syria on international issues. In February, the UN General Assembly voted 137-12, in favor of a resolution that condemned Assad and urged him to step down. Russia and China voted against international sanctions to Syria. Because of its protection to Syria Russia was criticized by many governments and civil society for its supports to Assad in Syria‘s crises. It has been Syria‘s long-time arms exporter since the Cold War. Syria is called ―Russian‘s Israel‖ by some people. This is because Syria has a strategic significance for Russia in the Middle East. It is also Russia‘s important marine outfall in the Mediterranean area.
America had overthrown Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya such countries connecting to Russia‘s geographical interests. So it is very important to keep its left few alliances like Syria and Iran in Middle East.
In Syria crises, there is necessary to consider countries inside the Arab League. Because in the Middle East, attitudes and standing points of the Arab League is very important to any issues here. When the Arab League agreed with international sanctions to Syria, some countries inside it had hesitated or voted against or abstined from voting including Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Jordan. Their attitudes indicated disputes and disagreement among countries in the Arab League. These countries as Syria‘s friends have given a lot supports to Bashar.
Fifth, in terms of Syria‘s foreign investment, Syria‘s convenient transportation and sufficient oil resources attracted a lot of investments, if Bashar‘s government is overthrew, foreign investors will have to face huge costs. From this point of view, the Syria‘s crisis has been a little complicated with these investors‘ participation. To Bashar, it is good news to have more time to deal with Syria‘s turmoil.
Some people think in the Middle East the next unlucky country will be Syria due to the development of the Arab Spring. They have seen the overthrows of governments which hold different political standing points with the Western world especially with America and France. Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia and Yemen have already been overthrown and leaders who have not been overthrown announced to step down at the end of their current terms, such as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Iraqi
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Jordan King Abdullah. (Dr Daak and Verhoeven). However , Syria is an important alliance of Iran and is also Russia‘s important marine outfall in the Mediterranean area. Seeing from Russia‘s geographical and geopolitical interests, Syria‘s crises also becomes an issue between America and Russia. Although America does not like Bashar and wants to build its order and sequence in the Middle East, with Russia‘s interference, the conflicts between America and Syria have transformed into conflicts between America and Russia in some way. What‘s more, according to American today‘s financial and material capabilities, adding its former experience in the War of Iraq, it is not possible to overthrow Syria on its own.
Seeing from these above comprehensive aspects, I think Bashar Hafez al-Assad will not step down in the Arab Spring. According to intention and preparation of the whole Assad family, Bashar Hafez al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad. In Syria, most power structure and key positions, especially the military forces are held by the Assad family and their loyal supporters. This concludes Bashar‘s stable political foundation and gives him more weights on protecting the current government from rebelling down. As for Bashar himself, he is well-known for some campaigns like dealing with introduction of different consumer technologies and anti-corruption campaign. He has also made changes in the ranks in Syrian institutions, central in bring computer technology and Internet access to Syria, as well as facilitating the introduction of mobile telephones. His achievements and styles are welcomed and supported by most Syria people. What‘s more, Syria‘s oppositions are isolating and independent and do not have the strength to overthrow current government. Because
main oppositions like the SNC and the FSA are found overseas and financed by foreign powers. They are not independent and also can not equal to Bashar‘s Baath Party. In addition, Syria has a strategic significance to power players like America, Russia, the UN and France, and the Arab League due to its geographical and geopolitical importance in the Middle East. Although Syria is now against by most countries leading by America and France in international society, it also has friends including Russia and China and some countries among the Arab League. And on some international sanctions and issues, Bashar also has the help of Syria‘s foreign investors in order to protect their investments from wars and crises. Therefore, Bashar Hafez al –Assad‘s future is not dependent on his political reform but on how he makes use of political resources and coordinates interests of all parties. And according to his personal abilities and assistants from his family members and supporters, Bashar Hafez al-Assad will not step down in the Arab Spring.
Blight, Garry and Pulham, Sheila and Torpey, Paul. ―Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests.‖Guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 January 2012 Web.15 Jun.2012
Carruthers, Douglas. ―The Great Desert Caravan Route, Aleppo to Basra.‖ The Geographical Journal 52.3 (September, 1918): 157—84.
China/Russia Veto a Victory for ‗Impunity, Inaction and Injustice,‘ Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 4 October 2011. Web. 15 Jun.2012.
Daak, Ahmed and Verhoeven, Harry .‖ The battle for the soul of the Islamic world.‖ Al Jazeera.com.24 May 2012 .Web. 15 Jun.2012.
Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. ―Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature‖ (New York, London, Toronto and Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 189. Web. 15 Jun.2012.
PLA Daily. ―Syria has an important strategic location indeed affect the body the Middle East.” Military of China .9 September, 2011.Web.15 Jun.2012.
Sacks, Benjamin. ‖Contested Syria: the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement.‖
Wikimedia Commons. Web. 15 Jun.2012
Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal.‖Syrian Crises: Three‘s a Crowd (Part 1 of 3 part series)‖ Juneterpstra.com.June 12,2012. Web. 15 Jun.2012.
Sharp, Jeremy M. and Blanchard, Christopher M..‖Syria: Unrest and U.S. Policy.‖ Congressional Research Service.May 24, 2012.Web. 15 Jun.2012.
Tristam, Pierre. ―Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: Profile‖ About.com.The New York Times Company.‖Web. 15 Jun.2012
Woolley, Leonard. ‖Syria as the Gateway between East and West.‖ The Geographical Journal 107.5/6 (May-June, 1946): 179—90.
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