Hafez Al Assad rooted tyranny in the Syrian soil.
Though the traces of ruthless ruling in the Middle East generally and Syria particularly might go as old as the region itself is, but the roots of recent tyranny in Syria are in Hafez Al Assad’s regime. He was a corrupt dictator who believed in iron and fist policies. Today, his son is his identity, he is commonly known as the father of the current Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, who is a strict follower of his father’s footprints. In a nutshell, the Second World War had changed a lot in the international arena and Syria was not an exception. Within a few years of getting rid of World War Second, almost all Muslim states fell victim to the lust of dictators and so the discussed state. Other states somehow managed to get rid of those dictators but not Syria. Instead, it is in civil war since 2011. Therefore, it can be stated that Hafez Al Assad gave wings to the present tyrannical regime of his son, Bashar Al Assad, who still rules the country which is in extreme chaos.
Who does not know that the state of Syria is in ruins today due to an ongoing civil war since 2011, when the people in Syria came out of their homes in the streets and demanded the resignation of Bashar Al Assad, who is ruling Syria since November 2000. This uprising was met with lethal power and grip of Bashar Al Assad and his forces. Soon armed groups emerged against the forces of Bashar Al Assad like Free Syrian Army, Al Nusra Front and the most lethal Daesh (so-called Islamic State) found an easy ground to impose their version of the caliphate. Daesh was heavily present in Raqqah, controlling the city matters. International actors like Iran, Russia, Britain, Turkey, USA, and Saudi Arabia also joined the theatre of war for various interests and reasons. Cutting the story short, there are around;
· Seven million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Syria (as per UNHCR Estimates of 2017)
· Four thousand civilian deaths by extremist groups in Syria.
· 1154 children deaths by Russian forces in Syria as per estimates of 2017 by Statista.com
· 12,882 deaths due to torture committed by Syrian regime forces and Iranian militias.
“Who is responsible for this chaos in the country?” is a question that remains unanswered or multi-answered since the very first day of the civil war in the state. In this regard, this article claims that the roots of this tyranny in the state were rooted by the current Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez Al Assad, who managed to remain in power by crook, like many other dictators of the region.
Starting from the early days of Hafez Al Assad’s life, he was born in a lower-middle-class Alawite family. Being an Alawite he was neglected by a major portion of the society as many other Alawites were, because to a great account they belonged to the Shia community of Islam whereas the Shia community clerics were hesitant to announce it through a clerical channel. Until the Iranian clerics declared Shia to the secular Alawites when Bashar Al Assad needed Iran’s help and support during the ongoing war situation in Syria. In short, Alawites were neither nearer to the Sunni community of the state nor the Shia community of the country, they were the neglected minority of society.
Being a poor guy born in a neglected minority, Hafez Al Assad was unable to get a university education. Luckily, he was enrolled in a military academy for free in 1951, as the country was offering free training, education, and jobs to talented youth. He became a pilot in the Syrian Air Force in the late 1950s when Syria and Egypt were opting for pan Arabism.
In 1963, when Hafez Al Assad was thirty-three, he and his fellow officers carried a successful coup and brought Ba’ath party in power. As it is common that dictators rarely miss the chance to hold the levers of power and this is what exactly Hafez Al Assad did. In 1966, a faction of young Syrian officers led an internal coup and toppled Amin al-Hafiz. Hafez Al Assad became the minister of Defense and as well as the commander of the Syrian Air Force.
The June 1967’s war created more vacuum for Hafez Al Assad to directly claim the seat of the presidency and this is what he did. In November 1970, Al Assad ordered the arrest of Jadid and in the very next year, he became the elected president of his country for a seven years’ term. His coming on power was colored with democracy but it is clear now that he had not come through an elected channel.
By taking charge of the presidency, he started painting the official buildings with Alawite colors. Hafez Al Assad not only blessed his Alawite fellows but also bestowed his kins with strong authorities. For instance, his brother Rif’at Al Assad was appointed as an elite praetorian guard outside the military structure of the country.
The main punch of the article is that the roots of the current tyranny in Syria lie in Hafez Al Assad’s regime and this is exactly what this article will argue now.
With blessing his Alawite fellows with power and wealth, Hafez Al Assad had disturbed the social fabric of the Syrian state, which was diverse in nature. As per the 2012’s survey, there were around 12 percent Alawites in the Syrian state whereas the presence of Alawites in the elites was far bigger than this percentage, which is a result of the crook governance by Hafez Al Assad.
As it is understood that dictators come through force, which causes them to hold a strong grip over society if they are to survive in mainstream politics. Whereas the fuel in the fire was that Hafez Al Assad created a wide gap between the majority and the minority of the state, flexing and paving ways for civil war in the country.
The most astonishing episode of his reign is the massacre of around 10,000 people in Hama (a city on the banks of the Orontes River in west-central Syria which is located 213 km north of Damascus and 46 kilometers north of Homs. It is the provincial capital of the Hama Governorate. With a population of 854,000, Hama is the fourth-largest city in Syria after Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs.). It all began with Syria’s defeat in 1973’s war against Israel when Hafez Al Assad was felt weak and few minor and major uprisings were finding grounds to topple the dictator. The opposition was also rising against the secular regime of Alawites objecting to Al Assad’s intervention against the PLO in Lebanon and his support for Shia Iran against Iraq. Also, guerilla warfare against the government had emerged in the mid-1970s.
Assad’s forces made hundreds of arrests but all in vain. The major challenge to Assad’s regime came in 1980 when the Islamic Front destroyed government installations in the capital city of Damascus and it looked like Hafez Al Assad will not survive after such a major happening. The officials had not settled yet when the rebellions rose against the government demanding Assad’s resignation.
The strongest stronghold of the rebellions was set in Hama, where a large sum of the people collaborated with the guerilla warriors and declared Jihad against the government. Assad sensed the danger very well and sent a heavy military to Hama under his lethal brother Rif’at Al Assad to crush the uprisings for once and all. Rif’at Al Assad launched a deadly campaign in the city of Hama, using heavy artillery, smashing the city buildings with tanks, demolishing structures, let those be churches, mosques, or even houses of the civilians. The whole district was razed in only two weeks and was declared rebellion free by the government and its forces.
Though Assad emerged as the supreme power in the country but on the cost of around 10,000 (few sources estimate it as 40,000) civilian deaths, Hama in ruins and terror all over the country that who so ever would dare to rise against Hafez Al Assad will meet his final destiny, death. It also became very clear that Assad’s power did not rely on popular consent, instead, it was based on the loyalty of the armed forces. Hafez Al Assad’s power remained unchallenged by any major factor till his death in June 2000 and his son Bashar Al Assad is ruling the state in the same way as his father ruled throughout his presidency.
To conclude, Hafez Al Assad sowed the seeds of tyranny in the Syrian state and the fruits are now being guarded by his successor and son, Bashar Al Assad. Therefore, it can be concluded that Bashar Al Assad is the gardener of his father’s fields of tyranny.
Note: The pictures’ courtesy does not belong to the writer.