Come on, who doesn’t love Bashar? Well at least his Assad family paraphernalia. Sure, this is not government issue and he has eschewed the statues and huge portraits that his father, Hafez, so enjoyed. Syria’s ruling house has been somewhat middle of the road in its self aggrandisement when compared to some of its neighbours. Jordan’s Hashemites shouldn’t have to go for the farcical, full-bedouin dress or operetta-military outfit propaganda pics, being descendants of the prophet but they do anyway. And remember the giant stone busts of fellow Baathist dictator Saddam Hussein at his Baghdad palace? Still, the Assads have been cultivating their image as a ruling family for decades, as in this button from the 1990’s depicting Hafez with his son Basil, his intended heir who died in a car crash, and Bashar who had to be given legitimacy quickly.
The text at the bottom boldly declares ‘Suria al-Assad’ as if another push towards more complete identification of the family with the country and vice versa were necessary. But it’s a lovely tradition in the region to name your country after your family. The Saudis did it and Jordan is also the Hashemite Kingdom. Anyway, to understand the particular mess that Syria is in today, it helps to know a couple of things about the Assads, apart from the whole Alawite angle. Bashar was never intended to lead the country, his older, more dashing and martial brother Basil was the heir apparent. He took a ‘special interest’ in neighbouring Lebanon that extended to him dating a beautiful Lebanese girl – ironic detail: after he died, she married a Lebanese politician and newspaperman who was killed years later in what many belief was Syria’s campaign against its opponents in Lebanon.
Bashar, the gawky supposed medical doctor and ophthalmologist was roped in to rescue the family franchise, leading to the by now well-known list of blunders on his part, starting with a ruthless crackdown on even the mildest of dissidents following a very brief ‘spring’ when he took over in 2000, then the fiasco in Lebanon where his henchmen are widely suspected of being behind the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and culminating in the brutal actions against peaceful demonstrations in 2011 that led to the current civil war. While on the subject of blunders: Those awful Sunni Jihadi terrorists that he accuses of forming the bulk of the opposition, well they are to a large degree his own creation. Syria used radical Islam on many occasions against its enemies, including the well-documented sluicing of men and money to Al Qaeda in Iraq, the very same group that’s now causing so much trouble in his own ‘Suria al-Assad’. Blowback or what?
Obviously Bashar paraphernalia is so much less cool than Basil’s and Hafez’s. They are both buried in a mausoleum in Qardaha, the birthplace of the Assad clan that sports a large statue of the pater familias in the town centre. Bashar may end up in foreign soil, if things continue this way. I have more Hafez and possibly some Bashar stuff stored somewhere and will try post the gaudiest items if I ever dig them up.