Doggedly deluded

File - June 20, 2011 photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus. (AP Photo/SANA)

Several days after reshuffling the Baath Party’s central committee, comments from President Bashar Assad Thursday revealed, if more evidence was needed, that he is not facing up to the reality of events on the ground.

The naming of 16 new party leaders Monday left only Assad himself in place as secretary-general, and sought to fill the command center with only those most loyal to the president, or so unknown as to prove harmless.

Most noticeably removed from power was Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, not without coincidence the committee’s only member to openly speak out in favor of a diplomatic solution to the increasingly bloody war.

It is also not unlikely that Assad’s fears of a Yemen-like scenario, where President Abdullah Ali Saleh was replaced by his deputy, may have contributed to Sharaa’s downfall. Certainly diplomatic talks at the first Geneva conference seemed to insinuate that such an interim government might be a favored possibility.

The reshuffle was the first since 2005, and this delay is emblematic of the myriad reasons Syrians eventually rose up and demanded their right to freedom and democracy. Ensconced in the Baath Party rule since 1963, they had grown tired of the same faces, the same policies, and the lack of any real or genuine progress.

In his latest remarks, Assad said those who were dethroned in the reshuffle had made mistakes, and this was why they were ousted. But the fact that he himself as leader of the party has remained in power undermines the basic rules of management. If a soldier trips up, his commanding officer must step up and take the blame. So too must Assad, if he truly believes mistakes have been made, be the one to take responsibility, for any mistakes have happened allegedly under his watch.

Assad also used the interview to continue to gloat over the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt last week. While long his enemies, Assad seems to forget there were plenty of others, in Syria and outside, who wish to see his days end. If he mistakenly believes that if the Brotherhood is weakened across the region then he has won the war, he is going to be in for a surprise. Many people of different sects and backgrounds and political affiliations want to see the end to Baath Party rule, which for 50 years has governed their lives. For 50 years those in the varied ranks of opposition have tried in countless, legitimate ways to contest his rule. With no success after half a century, their anger naturally exploded. And instead of meeting their anger with democratic discussion and interaction, the regime decided to turn the situation into a civil war.

Superficial changes within the Baath Party, coming now as they do, with Assad feeling a little bit stronger after gains on the ground, represent little more than time wasting, and will deceive no one as to their aim.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 12, 2013, on page 7.




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