- The war in Syria has claimed more than 387,000 lives and forced millions of people to flee.
- Ten years after the start of the conflict, Bashar al-Assad has remained in power and is now heading for a presidential election that is certain for him.
- “Bashar has no legitimacy but he will continue to reign over a country in ruins, which has lost eight million of its inhabitants,” analyzes researcher Bayram Balci.
The face of Bashar al-Assad has long been that of the conflict in Syria. In a decade, this war killed more than 387,000 people, displaced and forced into exile more than half of the pre-war population, estimated at more than 20 million.
Ten years after the start of this murderous war, Bashar al-Assad is still in power, having succeeded his father Hafez in 2000. In this ravaged country, the strongman of Damascus could be re-appointed for a seven-year term, following a new presidential election in the spring. Can the reign of the indestructible Assad, “who reigns over a country that no longer exists”, continue? 20 Minutes make the point.
Ten years after the start of the war, what is the political situation in Syria today?
The Assad clan has been in power in Syria for over fifty years. Today, it is composed of Bashar, but also of his wife Asma, and their son Hafez al-Assad junior, 19 years old. And of their Alawite relatives, a minority which occupies many positions of responsibility in the country.
In April-May, a new presidential election is due to be held, and Bashar al-Assad intends to run for a fourth term of seven years as head of state. “This election is bogus. In the international community, nobody wants to go and observe these elections, because that amounts to legitimizing the electoral masquerade ”, estimates Bayram Balci, researcher at Ceri-Sciences Po and specialist in Syria. “This process has been a joke for some time now,” confirms a Western diplomatic source to AFP.
And the country is not done with the Assad clan. In an article dated March 13, Release relays suspicions about Asma al-Assad’s candidacy for the presidential election, which would allow him “to ensure a kind of regency while waiting for his son Hafez al-Assad junior, 19, to reach the legal age to be president of the country ”.
How did he manage to stay in power despite the conflict?
In 2011, under the effect of the Arab Spring, the days in power of Bashar al-Assad seemed numbered. But the Syrian president defied the prognosis, by staying in power by force. “He was able to play on our fears in the face of Daesh, he himself fueled the jihad to better protect himself,” Bayram Balci analyzes. Instrumentalising the rise of jihadist groups, the regime posed as the protector of minorities, especially Christians.
Despite tens of thousands of defections, the Syrian army also played a major role in Assad’s survival. “The military command remained faithful” because it had been drowned “by relatives of Assad and other Alawites”, explains Thomas Pierret, of the Institute for Research and Studies on the Arab and Muslim Worlds, interviewed by AFP.
The members of this religious minority close to Shiism “probably represented more than 80% of the officers in 2011 and occupied practically all the influential positions”, he adds. Finally, the president knew how to play with the multiple divisions of Syrian society: between Arabs and Kurds, between Sunnis, Alawites and other minorities.
Why has the opposition failed to present a credible alternative?
In 2012, more than 100 countries recognized a “National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces” as the sole representative of the Syrian people. But, despite international efforts, the opposition in exile and the rebels in Syria have failed to form a united front. On the ground, the armed factions have gradually fragmented.
“On the one hand, the opposition is divided, as Syrian society is divided, ethnically and religiously,” explains Bayram Balci. “On the other hand, it was not supported enough from the outside. The West, for example, has procrastinated too much to act. “There is still opposition abroad”, however, recalls the researcher. “Many are in prison or abroad, in Turkey, Qatar or Europe. But unfortunately she is so crushed that she is not really an alternative to Bashar at the moment. “
What political future for Syria?
“It is completely imprecise, vague and uncertain,” said Bayram Balci. “It is a country that no longer exists. Bashar still in power, which shows the indifference and incapacity of the international community on the subject. He has no legitimacy but he will continue to rule over a country in ruins, which has lost eight million of its inhabitants. And he is still young, his diet will last for a while ”.
“We Westerners are powerless to assess the situation in the country. This risks further destabilizing the entire region. The war had a great impact on neighboring countries. Iraq has a lot of security problems. In Turkey, the authoritarian drift is partly linked to what is happening in Syria. This suggests that the region will suffer further, ”adds Bayram Balci.
And on the diplomatic level? Western countries, once intractable on the departure of Assad, are content to demand a negotiated outcome to the conflict. For an anonymous researcher based in Damascus, interviewed by AFP, the situation is “inextricable”. “The Syrian regime cannot be reintegrated into the international system, nor can it remain excluded from it. “