Assad is fooling no one

One reason Assad may want to see large numbers of returnees is to fill large gaps in his military.
Sunday 15/07/2018
A Syrian government soldier stands next to a pickup truck bearing a poster of President Bashar Assad in the southern province of Daraa, on July 7. (AFP)
Protracted war. A Syrian government soldier stands next to a pickup truck bearing a poster of President Bashar Assad in the southern province of Daraa, on July 7. (AFP)

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad may succeed in fooling some into believing that he has won the war that has ripped his country apart and forced nearly one-third of the Syrian people to become refugees. He may have even succeeded in fooling himself into believing he will emerge victorious from the nightmarish ordeal through which he has taken Syria.

The truth is that Assad is responsible for all the ills that affected the country and the list is a long one.

Assad is responsible for the systematic destruction of cities, towns and population centres, including the sacking of historic and current commercial centres, such as Aleppo. Assad carries the blame for many atrocities and should face a war crimes tribunal but chances are he will not.

Supporting him — for their own political agendas — are the Russians and the Iranians, two of the most influential political and military powers in the region.

While the war is far from over, even though his forces have scored decisive military victories over the opposition, Assad, forever the optimist, is reported to have said that Syrian refugees who fled the country could return.

As many as 5.5 million Syrians were turned into refugees because of the fighting. Many who fled did so for political reasons. Some will return once the fighting stops and an agreement is reached. Many will not return.

Given the situation in the country, how can Assad talk of refugees’ return and reconstruction and hint at the end of the war when the root causes of the conflict nurtured by the Assad dynasty for decades have not been addressed?

Assad can still call on Russian and Iranian support to quash whatever internal dissent remains but a real solution for Syria requires the Syrians to agree among themselves on a game plan for a new Syria and that is nowhere in sight.

Assad perhaps believes that he can — with help from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s mullahs — sweep all the atrocities of the past seven years under the rug, pretend nothing has happened and that we can all get along. That is not going to happen.

On the one hand Assad said the refugees could return, although Syria lacks the infrastructure to handle refugees on such a large scale. On the other, he does not shy away from labelling some refugees as “terrorists.”

One reason Assad may want to see large numbers of returnees is to fill large gaps in his military. The civil war has consumed thousands of troops and Assad badly needs new recruits.

The Assad regime released a propaganda video in March aimed at the young men of Syria, the Daily Mail newspaper in London reported. In the video Asma Assad, the wife of Bashar Assad, tells female army volunteers: “You are far stronger and more courageous than many men because when the going got tough, you were on the front lines and they were the ones running away or hiding.”

Her words were intercut with images of the women volunteers in combat training, as well as testimonials from the women and their mothers. The underlying message: Shame on you men for fleeing military service — a “sacred duty” enumerated in Syria’s constitution.

That comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May defended Great Britain’s commitment to aiding refugees, claiming $3.1 billion was being spent on humanitarian aid. In Washington, US President Donald Trump is deciding whether to escalate the US military presence in Syria, after another alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians was linked to Assad’s forces.

The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest movement of civilian populations since world war two. The peculiarity of this crisis is, more so than in previous refugee crises, the changing trend in the refugees’ behaviour. They are very likely to remain displaced for years instead of being able to return home or be permanently resettled in a third country.

While resettlement has always been relatively rare, it’s most likely used in cases where it’s clear that the situation in the refugees’ home country will never get better. There comes a time when the refugee must stop being a refugee and become a citizen of his host country.

7