BASHIR ASSAD: WILL HE OR WON'T HE?
By Micah Halpern
Monday October 24, 2005
It took months for the United Nations to release their findings on the assassination of Lebanon's, Rafik Hariri. It took only minutes for the Syrian rumor mill to release their findings.
On Saturday, al Seyassah, a paper published in Kuwait, reported that prior to the release of the report Syrian president Bashir Assad called several Arab leaders and asked their advise. The newspaper reported that Assad told them that if they could arrange for a report that in no way mentioned or implicated his regime - he would leave quietly and live out the rest of his years in London.
Each leader told Assad that it was not in their power to grant his wish, that this was an issue beyond even their control. Bashir Assad's fears were realized.
If this interesting tidbit is indeed true, it is a telling insight into the tortured and tormented life of Syria's ruler. This exchange, more than others, illustrates how ill suited this British trained eye doctor is for the role that family and circumstance thrust upon him. This man, Bashir Assad, does not want to rule Syrian and should not be ruling Syria. If the glory and the power do not tantalize him, if all he yearns for is a quiet life in London listening to music and surfing the internet then that is what he should be doing. Reluctant rulers, especially reluctant despotic rulers, are dangerous.
If this tidbit is true, it confirms for us all that real power in Syria does not rest with the junior Assad, as it did under his father, but with his generals and with his family. It also shows how little Bashir understands the United Nations and the international community.
Another rumor reported in the same article in al Seyassah gives further evidence of the role The Family plays in the life and reign of Bashir Assad. According to the Kuwaiti paper in a meeting to discuss the UN report his mother Anisa was the prominent voice. The mother's advice to her son was to resign and to hand the throne over to Asef Shawkat, his brother-in-law.
You might not be familiar with the name Asef Shawkat. That's because he did have the influence and the power and the connections to keep his own name out of the United Nations report on Hariri's assassination. The name Asef Shawkat should have been in the blank white space that described the person responsible for the assassination, the person in whose office the entire plan was hatched, in the office responsible for security.
Anisa and other people of influence in Syria view Shawkat as a stronger leader and more formidable figure than Bashir Assad. They believe that Shawkat will more easily withstand Western pressure than the present leader.
Apparently, Shawkat was fully aware of the fact that his name was to be put forth as the next and righteous leader of the Syrian people. He was certainly fully aware of the role he played in the assassination. He was not aware of the reaction these pronouncements would have on the present leader. And so, in anticipation of a palace coup, Shawkat alerted his security in the intelligence and military wings to be on alert in the event that Assad and his presidential force chose to offer him up as a peace offering, as appeasement, to the West. Shawkat was afraid of Assad's reaction because of an interview Bashir Assad gave to CNN during which he promised to arrest and hand over any Syrian proven to be connected to the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
Interestingly, Bashir Assad and Asef Shawkat are not only brothers-in-law. Shawkat is one of Assad's most trusted advisors. But all is not peaceful in the Assad family, there are many and deep tensions. Several years ago Assad's younger brother, Mahar, whose name was also excised from the final United Nations report and Shawkat had a tussle that ended with one of them being shot in the stomach.
Yes, there are rumors galore. And in every rumor there is at least a bit of truth. And, yes, there are serious weaknesses in the ruling regime in Syria. But should Bashir Assad actually retire to London, do not expect a more benevolent ruler cum dictator. On the contrary, those waiting in the wings, Shawkat among them, show signs of being even more ruthless, cunning and despotic.
Whoever rules, ultimately it makes no difference, there will continue to be a united front in Syria. United against America. United against Israel. United against the West.