Much pomp, no empathy

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syria's President Bashar Assad reviews an honor guard upon his arrival at the presidential palace to take the oath of office for his third seven-year term in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, July 16, 2014.(AP Photo/SANA)

Like a modern-day Caesar, Bashar Assad strolled into a huge hall to hear the applause of supporters as he swore himself in for another seven-year term as Syrian president.

The ceremony was held in the Presidential Palace overlooking the Syrian capital, because the traditional locale – Parliament in downtown Damascus – remains a no-go zone for officials such as Assad, fearful of rebel mortar bomb strikes.

The change in venue was of little consequence for Assad, whose audience heard him repeat the same, stale old rhetoric of the last three years: Victory is at hand, all calls for change are treason, and everything wrong with the country is due to foreign meddling.

Assad talked at length about having achieved victory, before going on to mention, in passing, that his regime intends to one day re-assert its control over places such as Raqqa, and even Aleppo, its former commercial capital.

He paid tribute to the victory achieved by Syrians, before alluding to a few “friends” – in fact, if not for Russian hardware, Iranian money, and Lebanese and Iraqi bodies, it would be difficult to imagine Assad where he is today.

The event was useful, however, in that it reminded people of the top priority for such political regimes: the physical survival of a handful of people at the top.

Millions of their countrymen might face torture, death or displacement, but these are just trivial details compared to the ultimate goal – seeing a person like Bashar Assad star in a pathetic spectacle, like the one the world saw Wednesday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 17, 2014, on page 7.




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