It’s extremely rare for people in the west to see the Syrian president Assad in their news; even less to hear his words. Most likely he is seen from afar behind a lectern and his words lost behind the overdub of the reporter giving their opinion/assessment of events in Syria. The speech given by Assad to his people is an almost unique opportunity to gain closer inspection of the man and his thoughts, so what can we learn from the speech?
Before listening to the entire speech (in English) rather than the edited version from western media, it’s worth noting a few pieces of background information. Bashar was the younger brother, so never destined to be president of Syria. When his elder brother died in a car accident, Bashar was quickly prepared for office. Prior to that, he studied medicine, including a stint at a university hospital in London, UK. Bashar is a qualified ophthalmic optician and practised as such until becoming president. He speaks English very well; albeit with a slight lisp. He has strong connections to the UK; his wife is of British heritage. In the early days of his presidency, he was hailed as a good man by the UK government. He is far from flamboyant. One of his first decrees as president was to have removed all publicly displayed pictures of him. The decree was generally ignored. Basar is an intelligent, quiet man who considers his options before acting on them. Syrians who don’t like Assad as a president will often tell you they like him as a man. However, in this speech, I noticed a greater tone of irritation and anger than I’ve seen in other interviews.
So what of the speech? From the beginning and throughout, he talks about the Syrian people uniting as one people regardless of political and religion. He begins by acknowledging the suffering in Syria. He talks of it as a ‘black cloud’. He puts the onus on the Syrian people to do what he can (he never talks of females, referring to the Syrian people as ‘he’ and ‘brothers’) This is not a call to arms, but a call to unity of supporting each other and the state in troubled times. During WW2, such ideals were known as ‘the war effort’. He states that Syrians who do nothing are not helping the state, so are helping the enemy.
Later in the speech, he talks about the ‘social solution’. He talks about groups of people (Syrians) in Homs and Daara (but implying throughout Syria) who have no affiliation to either side of the conflict, but operate as nationalists operating in the community. He states that any solution will need the social element.
He questions whether those who oppose the state can be classed as revolutionaries. He talks of them stealing and killing, stopping the functions of state such as teaching in schools and universities, and depriving people of medicines and fuel. He states that a revolution needs a leader and comes from the people and works in the interest of the people. He asks, “where is this leader?” and argues that the conflict is not a revolution because it does not serve the interests of the people.
He then talks about the enemy. Throughout, he describes them as terrorists and jihadists: extremists, which Bashar opposes. (Syria is a secular country) He gives a brief history of the rise of Al Qadea: Starting in the 1980s, supported by the west and now spread throughout the world’s society, even in western countries. He admits that Al Qaeda is now in Syria. He talks about ‘enemy countries’ who want to weaken or divide Syria by supporting the Syrian enemy with weapons and money. He goes on to say that the Syrian people are strong so the enemy will not succeed; this gets a round of applause.
He gives the reason for the West’s involvement in Syria; describing his country as free, sovereign and not bow down to dictations, which has happened in other country. He says this stance annoys the west. He reminds the listener that the ‘international community’ is not just the west, and that other countries – he mentions the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) – and Iran, which have generally been supportive of Syria and Assad. On behalf of the Syrian people, he expresses gratitude to those countries. This gets another round of applause.
He talks about the reforms of Syria and the need for those in power to have a ‘partner’ to begin the dialogue about where the future of Syria is. He poses rhetorical questions as who should Syria have dialogue with. The terrorists? The extremists? Those who are controlled by foreign countries? He says he will hold dialogue with opposition parties with individuals who did not sell Syria to Strangers, but have laid down their arms and no not seek to harm nationality.
Sometimes this is a plea for unity sometimes he describes Syria as being unity (usually against foreign intervention) This is not the contradiction that it may seem. Many people who oppose Assad will stand with him against foreign intervention. He declares that the crisis will end with the will and strength of the Syrian people. Very much, this is a war-time speech to raise morale and hope of the Syrian people.
The Political Solution is as follows:
- All foreign states to stop supporting terrorist attacking Syria. Following this, all Syrian military activities will stop, except for the right to protect the state and the people.
- Find a mechanism that all agree to, which will address issue of Syrian borders (This refers to Israel illegal occupation of the Syrian area known as Golan Heights)
- Begin dialogue with all factions who have an interest in Syria and start a national debate as to how Syria can move forward as a free country. This dialogue will result in a document: a charter, that will contain laws on political parties and other law reforms.
He then goes on to say that the charter will be subject to a referendum of the people and become a constitution. Laws of the charter accepted by the people will then be implemented. This will be followed by a new government, formed within the framework of the constitution. There will then be a reconciliation process and finally a reconstruction/rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure.
He makes it clear that any changes will have to have the agreement of the people. He offers this as a guarantee.
Bashar warns that this process or ‘vision’ will be rejected by some at whom its not even directed. He states that any ideas that come from the outside must be based on this vision and help these ideas. He then goes on to say that the message to those on the outside is: we don’t need help with the political affairs of the country that is thousands of years old, we need help in stopping terrorism.
He praises and salutes the national army for their heroics and their fight against Syria. He also praises the Palestinians who stand by Syria and voices Syria’s support for the Palestinian people. He ended by praising the Syrian people; saying they were strong and that the fighting, which has gone on for two years now shows the world that Syria cannot collapse.