Syria: Reporters Manage to Enter Hama

After about a month of Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces mounting an all-out campaign against the city of Hama in Syria, and blacking out all outside media, Turkish reporters and some undercover Western ones managed to get in and see the destruction left behind by the government forces.

As Rania Abouzeid reports for Time Magazine, on “July 31, the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, (…) the military stormed the city. Residents say that day was the bloodiest. ‘They shelled us continuously from 5 a.m. until 10 a.m. every day, and then again from the afternoon to all night,’ says one resident”.

This is the same city that was attacked in 1982 by Bashar’s father, then-president Hafez al-Assad. Back then, between ten thousand and forty thousand citizens were killed in what is still known as the “Hama massacre”.

The acts of the current president show that he seems to have “learned” both from his father’s methods, which seem to have helped him stay in power for decades, and from the revolts of the Arab Spring, namely the differences between how the governments reacted in Egypt, Libya, or Yemen.

Furthermore, Bashar’s calculations surely also took into consideration the fact that the NATO’s commitment in Libya has again showed the little patience the public in Europe and the US have with regard to such armed foreign interventions. He must have looked at the US and must have seen that president Obama is neck deep in political fights, and that he is on relatively shaky ground, as he prepared for the 2012 elections. He must have noticed that the NATO resources invested in the Libyan mission are scarce, once the US decides to step back a little.

All these could have given him the idea that he has a limited niche during which he has to act with maximum brutality – which he did, and continues to do.

But the intensity and viciousness of his acts, the many atrocities committed, the many people killed, have not managed to deter the Syrians from protesting and opposing a regime that has lost almost all shred of legitimacy. Even the strictest authoritarian regime can appeal to the population based on the fact that it provides what is the first and most basic duty of any government to provide: physical security. When, however, far from providing it, the government is the greatest threat to the life of its citizens, in the most brutal way and on a large scale, appealing to that is no longer possible. The demise of that regime will come, sooner or later.

The experience of the fall of Communism has shown that the – hardly quantifiable – erosion of legitimacy is a deadly disease, eating away at a regime, from the inside. It affects not only the population but the elites themselves – the members of the regime, at various levels. This is what happened in Hungary, after the brutal Soviet intervention of 1956, until the complete crumbling of the regime in the 1980s. And the catalyst and symbolic force in this process was the every experience of the “successful” bloody defeat of the uprising by the Soviets.  This is why a key moment in the process of removing the Communist regime was the public ceremonial reburial of the leader of that uprising, former Prime Minister Imre Nagy. This is why it is said that in the last months of his life, János Kádár, the ruler of communist Hungary, the man who betrayed and replaced Imre Nagy, was still haunted by his figure.

Bashar al-Assad has no friends in Europe, and he would be very mistaken to think that the Republicans are any more favorably inclined that the current Democratic administration. The Bashar Al-Assad regime has relatively few friends left inside Syria – a deadly disease; and it has very few among the country’s alienated neighbors.


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