Middle East


Assad's Taqiyya against the Syrian People

A Syrian protester flashes the victory sign during a protest calling for President Assad to step down in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, on April 17.

Although the origins of al-Taqiyya—a practice in Shia Islam where adherents can conceal their faith because they're under threat—are found in fundamentalist dogma regarding propaganda, Ba'athists and other authoritarian regimes in the region have used the practice for decades. And the doctrine has mutated to now also refer to someone hiding his real intentions in an effort to deceive. Once widespread opposition to his one-party regime became evident, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad needed to shield himself from international retribution. In an effort to buy time, the Syrian dictator announced that he would cancel emergency law, which forbids demonstrations and limits free speech. 

Assad's lack of credibility immunizes Syrian protesters to his "Taqiyya." No deception will convince them that the Syrian President's intentions are good. Ma'moun Homsi, a former member of Syria's Parliament who has been jailed several times for speaking out against the regime said recently, "The dictator is gaining time and playing the propagandist, nothing more." Assad simply replaced an outmoded tool, the state of emergency, with a cutting-edge narrative referred to as "counter-terrorism law." His own speech indicts the so-called reformist head of the regime who warned, "There will no longer be an excuse for organizing protests after Syria lifts emergency law and implements the reforms." What part of reform does the Syrian president not understand?

When emergency law is lifted, it is so that protests can take place freely, not the other way around. In fact, Assad's speech sought to guild the rapidly tarnishing image of Damascus' ruling elite. Dozens of citizens, mostly youth, have been killed by his hit teams and snipers since the beginning of April. Reports have accused Bashar of importing Iranian and Hezbollah's militias to help suppress the protests. With such bloodshed, the regime has been delegitimized and its leaders will eventually face Syrian or international justice, no matter how long it takes, just as is the case in other Arab countries where rulers ordered protesters killed.

Assad's flanking maneuver to attack the Syrian revolt's rear guard is not reform. He never mentioned changing Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which states, "The leading party in the society and the state is the Socialist Arab Baath Party. It leads a patriotic and progressive front seeking to unify the resources of the people's masses and place them at the service of the Arab nation's goals." The protesters' main goal is to break the monopoly of Assad's ruling party. There was never any mention of releasing all political detainees. Equally important, there has been no dismantling of the existing security apparatuses. And last but not least, there is no intention of revising the Syrian Constitution. The only thing the dictator is doing is accusing imaginary "foreign conspiracies" from Israel, the United States, Arab Sunni Governments and Lebanon. His citizens do not buy his stories.

The demonstrators, mostly from civil society groups, were inspired by the "Damascus Declaration" issued more than five years ago by dissidents, some of whom remain in jail to this day. Most of the protesters are young males, with female protesters seen primarily on college campuses. Political movements that oppose the regime (left-wing, liberal and other) support the uprising but aren't moving to the front of the protests for fear of being exposed. This also applies to the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria, which is present on the streets but prefers, for the time being, that others be seen as taking the lead.

The protests started initially in Dar'a in the south where most of the killing took place. Gradually, they spread to cities in the north and finally Damascus. The demonstrators are mainly Sunnis, Syria's numerical majority, but Kurds, Christians, Druses and even Alawites (Assad's own ruling sect) have joined the marches.

The regime is using security forces and militias to suppress the revolt. Regular troops are seeing only limited involvement to avoid provoking troop defections. In addition, Iran and Hezbollah have permanent bases inside Syria and have been supplying the Syrian regime with equipment to track and suppress the communications of opposition groups that are organizing the demonstrations.

Despite the Assad regime's super police state, the masses will not retreat now. The demonstrators know all too well that the son of Hafez Assad will surpass the Hama massacres if the revolt recedes. Bashar played his last card with hollow promises of legal remedies rather than accept the principle of free elections. The Syrian dictator's "Taqiyya" didn't fool the people on the streets. They are well acquainted with the regime's method, which has been on display against Syria's enemies for decades. Assad can't fool his own people; he can only frustrate them further. Assad's psychological warfare on his own people has failed, and the revolt continues.

Dr. Walid Phares is the author of "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East" and a professor of global strategies. His website is www.walidphares.com.