Shouldn't Syria technically be our ally


Describing a country in decline is not easy. What is left of the political system today, and what of old Syria will survive the bloody fighting? The state structures have dissolved in some provinces. In the contested areas such as Aleppo, employees in the bloated civil service no longer receive salaries. State services have collapsed and are being taken over by revolutionary local coordination committees and armed rebels. Even the ministers in President Bashar al-Assad's cabinet are in fact under house arrest and strict surveillance for fear of desertions. Political power has completely passed into the president's family clan and the secret services. But well before the time when the current crisis began and the state institutions in Syria began to disintegrate, the ideological foundations of political Syria had crumbled and, at best, degenerated into a facade.

The Syria researcher and political scientist Raymond Hinnebusch placed Syria in the Middle Eastern model of populist authoritarian regimes that emerged after the withdrawal of the colonial powers. Their nationalist elites faced external threats and internal instability. At first they relied on the military and the administrative apparatus. At the same time they tried to expand their social base, for example into the lower middle class, and to increase their legitimacy. They tried to defend their foreign policy independence through "defensive modernization". Although they entered the circle of the capitalist world system, they tried to build an industry with which they could imitate and produce cheap consumer goods in order not to become dependent on imports (import substitution). The state took matters into its own hands. The industrial bourgeoisie had always remained weak. [1]

In the state patronage system of Syria, the large orders went to extended families loyal to the regime or to close and distant relatives of the presidential clan, such as the license for the cellular network or the car trade. One of the richest beneficiaries of the corrupt rentier economy is the Makhlouf clan from the family branch of Baschar's mother. Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Bashar, owns numerous key companies and is considered to be the richest man in Syria.

These so-called entrepreneurs were and are dependent on the regime. The monopoly of licenses reinforced this tendency. The "entrepreneurship" thus remained politically conservative and sought the regime's protection from foreign competitors and domestic unrest and also in the current crisis. Instead of an economically and socially dynamic entrepreneurship, an economic one emerged divide et impera or a "segmentation of the bourgeoisie". The regime-loyal caste or oligarchic bourgeoisie were particularly well represented in Damascus and Aleppo. There are also those who work as leading bureaucrats in the state apparatus and secure commissions from the system. They too are usually close to the presidential family and are also referred to as state bourgeoisie. [2]

All ideological pillars have fallen

Politically and ideologically, the Assad regime was based primarily on pan-Arabism, socialism, Baathism, secularism, anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism and stability guaranteed by secret services. Almost nothing is left of it.

After the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Syria remained the only pan-Arab mouthpiece of the old school. That was a contradiction in terms, because instead of Arab unity only the Syrian Baathists remained, who had put Syrian nationalism before pan-Arab nationalism in the ideological competition with the Iraqi Baathists. Apart from rhetoric, little was seen of Arab unity and pro-Palestinian solidarity in political practice. The majority of the Palestinians in Syria have now also fallen victim to the oppression. The Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmouk in Damascus has been bombed several times. Only a left-wing splinter group of the Palestinians (Palestinian Liberation Front - General Command) still believes in the dictator. Hamas has left Damascus. The Arab League parliament was withdrawn from Damascus in late 2011. Instead of the ideological pioneer of pan-Arabism, Syria has now become the pariah of the Arab world.

Under Bashar al-Assad, socialism in the Syrian system had been more and more undermined by neoliberal islands of punctual reforms and nepotistic privileges. Outwardly, he pretended to want to introduce the social market economy. But in the end he expanded the privileges of the regime-related business class and, above all, of his family clans. The economic policy under the young Assad focused on visible prosperity (import of new cars, modern cell phones, international goods) for the urban aspiring upper middle class, which benefited from the regime. In contrast, he neglected the impoverished hinterland, which also suffered from years of drought and mismanagement. There were still fixed basic prices for food, a free school and health system (even for the many Iraqi refugees who sought refuge in Syria after 2003), an inflated civil service, a socialist bureaucracy, and five-year plans. But when a new constitution was passed in February 2012 amid bloody battles against the demonstrating population in Deraa and Homs, the term socialism no longer even appeared.

Baathism saw itself as the rebirth of pan-Arab national pride in combination with socialist ideals and anti-imperialist impulses. The Ba'ath Party's leadership role was enshrined in the constitution from 1973 to 2012. As in the GDR, there were docile bloc parties. The Ba'ath Party led the party alliance in the Progressive National Front. Those who wanted to make a career in Syria joined the Ba'ath Party. Studies, a job, a license for one's own shop or even a factory were easier to obtain with a party book. The Ba'ath Party pervaded all social classes, professions and institutions. Trade unions, employers' associations, women's organizations, lawyers' guilds, journalists' associations and the like were brought into line. It was only with the uprising in 2011 that independent organizations such as a journalists 'association or a judges' association emerged, the members of which are now mostly abroad.

Despite its broad social base, the political role of the Ba'ath party under Bashar al-Assad continued to shrink. Their basic ideological values ​​were less and less reflected in politics. Although the party continued to be a "loyalty forge", its influence on Alawite family circles, the elite military apparatus and the secret services waned in the face of the contraction of the regime. Today the Ba'ath Party, especially at the lower levels, is as good as non-existent. In the first months of the initially peaceful uprising in 2011, members of local and provincial associations resigned from the party in protest against the ruthless violence of the Syrian army against civilians. That would have been absolutely unthinkable in the past. In the meantime, even some members of the 250-delegate parliament have deserted to Turkey.

The state-proclaimed secularism, which largely gathered the minorities behind the Assad regime, has turned into a sectarian survival tactic of the regime that tried to portray the uprising as a religious war from the start: Alawis and other minorities against Sunnis or "terrorists". This is a simplified representation that does not do justice to reality. Wealthy Sunnis continue to stand by the regime, even if large parts of the pragmatic Sunni trading class, once co-opted by Hafiz al-Assad, have withdrawn from the regime. On the other hand, prominent Alawis and Christians have joined the opposition or have always been anchored there. Even before 2011, the regime was dealing with the "Islamist threat". The secular opposition was uncompromisingly suppressed, while conservative Islamic circles partially gained influence. Simmering the Islamist danger meant being able to portray Assad and his regime as the guarantor of socially liberal Syria. That worked, and the war in Iraq with growing sectarian tensions gave the regime in Damascus enough argumentative ammunition to maintain the fear of Iraqi or Lebanese conditions in Syria. In this respect, the Iraq war developed a stabilizing effect for the regime.

Anti-Zionism, pro-Palestinian rhetoric and a resistance discourse that was cultivated not only by the regime, but also by large sections of the population and even parts of the opposition, provided additional support to the Assad regime. In January 2011, Assad still felt so safe from the effects of the “Arab Spring” that in an interview in the Wall Street Journal he recommended himself to his fellow Arab autocrats as a reformer and spoke of a unity of interests between the regime and the population in Syria. [3] After all, Syria is the only country in the chain of states of the "Arab Spring" that was most recently firmly arrested in the anti-Western camp.

But this resistance discourse broke up faster than Assad had suspected. As soon as he turned his arms inwards in Deraa and - instead of liberating the Golan - the notorious 4th Division of Bashar's brother Maher al-Assad shot at peaceful demonstrators, the resistance discourse collapsed, and with him the other popular figures overthrew it Camp like the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon into the abyss. Most recently in the summer war of 2006 with Israel from the Arab streets - also by Sunnis - celebrated as a bulwark against Zionism, in the eyes of many Arabs, the "Party of God" has now degenerated into an unprincipled militia that supports a dictator like no other torture and kill its own Arab population. The "Arab Spring" led to a paradigm shift: It was not the "resistance" against Israel or the Zionists that fueled the protests, but the outrage against their own Arab autocrats and the denied prospects for life.

The last anchor that many Syrians clung to, and some of them still hold on to desperately today, is the stability embodied by the Assad regime. For decades there was hardly any visible crime in Syria, no open religious conflicts and stable external borders, even on the Golan Heights occupied by Israel. Syria became a stable middle power in the region under the authoritarian presidential regime of Hafiz al-Assad. Only his son let the country become what it once was, a plaything of external interests. In Syria the tectonic plates of Sunni and Shiite spheres of interest converge, Russian and Western politics as well as Iranian, Saudi, Egyptian and Turkish power politics. Assad had tried to dominate the crisis in order to ultimately receive support from the political class of Israel's archenemy as a guarantor of stability. It is now clear that this important cornerstone of his legitimacy to rule has irrevocably collapsed. Assad will never be able to restore or guarantee stability in his country, let alone in his entire territory. This makes it dispensable for large parts of the Syrian minorities who fear revenge and persecution, as well as for the Arab and international community who fear a power vacuum and chaos in this sensitive region. As self-fulfilling prophecy is about to kick in what Assad and his regime warned about and what they triggered at the same time.

In reality, there is hardly anything left of the Syrian political system or the ideological pillars of the regime. A political meltdown has occurred, which as a nucleus only leaves the military power of a family clan and its profiteers, and if it fails, the country will be largely destroyed. In the following, however, we shall take a look at the remnants of the theoretical political system and its origins.