To the dismay of human rights activists everywhere, Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have begun to re-establish connections with the Assad regime. German political scientist Bente Scheller does a good job of calling them out in her article titled “Bashar al-Assad’s Unlikely Comeback” published in the Analysis section of the December 15, 2021 issue of Foreign Policy.
For those who desire to have a better understanding of the ongoing Syrian crisis, Scheller’s rather lengthy article also provides an excellent synopsis of the irony behind the continuation of Assad’s presidency in spite of the fact that his actions have resulted in the destruction of much of the country and reduction of Syria’s pre-2011 population by more than half.
Included is an astute description of how for decades the Assads, first the father and now the son, have been effective in manipulating key international players in the Middle East and convincing Westerners that they are progressive and tolerant and only reluctantly resort to violence when necessary to deter the “Islamic extremists” they claim are responsible for any resistance to their much-loved presidencies (sarcasm is mine and purely intentional).
Scheller points to the hypocrisy of such claims when she writes that in the early stages of the revolution (2011 and early 2012), the regime brutally assassinated the opposition’s most charismatic nonviolent figures such as Ibrahim Qashoush and Ghiath Matar “while deliberately overlooking jihadists, who were able to use this reprieve to expand their influence.”
“Like most authoritarian states, the regime was willing to tolerate an internal opposition as long as it remained small and divided and worked within acceptable parameters,” Scheller asserts.
“Confronted with a revolutionary movement that was creative, neither infiltrated nor compromised by outside forces, and that held an authentic interest in political change and advocating for a peaceful alternative, the government turned aggressively against the opposition, seeing their popularity and credibility as a threat,” she added.
As if the blatant arrogance of Assad combined with international tolerance and outright apathy towards the regime’s crimes against humanity weren’t enough, the current trend of normalizing relations with Syria sends a clear message to autocrats everywhere that they can wage brutal war on their own citizens at will if they follow Assad’s playbook.
“Regional governments that once shunned Damascus are mending fences with a murderous regime—showing human rights abusers everywhere how to commit atrocities with impunity.” writes Scheller.
In spite of a multitude of crimes against humanity being blatantly committed against helpless civilians in plain view of the entire world, the Assad regime has been allowed to continue its brutal reign of terror with help from the Russian military and extremist militias from Iran and Lebanon in a way that is detrimental to all who have fostered hopes of being able to escape their own despotic regimes worldwide.
Scheller, a long-time Syria analyst and former diplomat, knows very well that letting Assad off the hook for his crimes will have worldwide repercussions and leaves no doubt that it is a tragedy for all mankind when a regime that has managed to remain in power through the persistent use of propaganda and flagrant lies, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture, chemical weapon attacks, and the systematic bombing of unarmed civilians, is being accepted as the new normal.