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Why Bashar al-Assad remains popular among the Syrian people

Political stability is the goal to which all nations aspire. Those who have had it for sustained periods often forget that what is taken for granted in countries like the United States, is a precious gift to those in countries like Syria.

The centuries of on-and-off wars which ravaged Europe, largely came to an end in 1945. Since then, with the exceptions of the dreadful Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Europe, like the English speaking parts of the New World, has not known armed conflict from external superpowers let alone sustained, bloody civil wars. The current war in Donbass is of course an exception, but the status of Donbass as a European region is up for debate.

By contrast, the history of Syria between 1946 and 1970 was one where political turbulence and civil strife was the rule, broken up by exceptional periods of peace that were hardly stable. Syria became fully independent of French mandate rule in 1946. Three coups of 1949 were followed by another in 1954. Of the new Arab states formed from former British and French mandates, Syria was in many respects, the least stable.

Signs of hope for Syrian stability arrived in 1958. Egypt’s success in the Suez War of 1956, broadened the appeal of Nassarist Pan-Arabism. Syria was the first country to officially sign up to the programme when Cairo and Damascus agreed to form the United Arab Republic. In spite of initial optimism, certain figures in the Syrian military became angered at supposed Egyptian dominance of the Republic, leading to a coup against the UAR in 1961 in which Syria was declared the fully independent Syrian Arab Republic.

The March 8 Revolution of 1963 brought the Ba’ath party to power. The new Ba’athist government was led by Prime Minister Salah al-Din al-Bitar, working closely with Michel Aflaq, one of the foremost thinkers of Ba’athism. This too would be short lived as events in Syria in 1966 led to an international split in the Ba’ath party. Al-Bitar fled to Lebanon and Aflaq to Iraq as the leftist Ba’ath hardliner Salah Jadid took power. Jadid’s rule became increasingly unpopular after Syria’s joint loss to Israeli forces in the Arab-Israeli War (Six Day War) of 1967.

When Jadid pushed for Syrian action against Jordan in order to aid Palestinians during the Black September crisis of 1970, less radical elements of the Ba’ath party led by Hafez al-Assad launched the Correct Movement which ousted Jadid and ushered in a period of increased stability following the turbulence of the 60s.

Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria from 1970 until his death in the year 2000. Whilst the Syrian military participated in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 and engaged in longstanding interventions in the Lebanese Civil War, internally Syria became increasingly stable. If the story of Syrian history from 1946-1970 was one of continual instability, the story of Syria from 1970 till 2011 tells the opposite tale.

It was during this period that the Federation of Arab Republics was formed in 1972. Initially spearheaded by Libya’s Gaddafi, the idea was to create a federative model of Pan-Arab unity as opposed to the united state model of the United Arab Republic. Although highly popular with the populations of Syria, Libya and Egypt, the Federation collapsed in 1977. In spite of this, Syria’s internal stability remained largely unshaken throughout the 1970s and into the new millennium.

After 2003, Syria was one of the first countries in the world to unconditionally and without prejudice, accept refugees from the disastrous war America and Britain waged against Iraq. This is one of the reasons why the Western sponsored insurrections of 2011 in Syria are all the more tragic.

The Syrian people, like any people who have experienced a history of civil strife, coups and general political instability, crave the peace that is only possible with stable government. Bashar al-Assad who took over from his father in 2000, has remained in power despite the continued conflict. This is something no previous modern Syrian leader had been able to achieve, and until Russia came to Syria’s aid in the war against terrorism, Assad largely stood alone.

He could not have done this without the broad support of a Syrian people whom in the 1940s, 50s and 60s saw leader after leader come and go, often under the cloak of extreme violence. No people crave revolution. It is an entirely unnatural condition in the affairs of men and women.

Revolutions are typically born out of the localised greed of specific groups with very specific interests. Revolutions which occur in the name of the greater good are the exceptions which prove this rule.

The people of Syria have implicitly expressed their understanding of this reality. They want a prosperous country, a sovereign country, a country free from terrorism, a secular country and a country with healthy, patriotic voices of opposition.

The irksome term ‘moderate rebel’ is often used by mainstream media to portray the terrorists ravaging parts of Syria. In reality, by definition no rebel is moderate. An act of rebellion is necessarily an act of extremism and Syrians do not want to return to the 1960s, to an age of fighting, revolution and fear. They want what they have broadly had since 1970, peace and freedom. This is why President Assad still stands tall in Damascus.

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