Sifting through Al-Asad’s “Conspiracy Theories”

Written on April 6, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East

By Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Assistant Professor of Contemporary History at IE University


Compared to Muammar Gaddafi’s rants and raves, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s speech from the People’s Assembly on the recent events seemed rather tame. Al-Asad made no declarations about “fighting from house to house, alleyway to alleyway.”  Qaddafi introduced “zenga zenga” and a music video to go along with it.  Bashar’s speech was soporific, interrupted by the occasional sycophantic praises from those in the Assembly.  

 Even Qaddafi’s conspiracy theories were more elaborate.  Qaddafi blamed the problems in Libya on young people taking hallucinogenic drugs under the guidance of an Al-Qaida-American plot.  Syria’s alleged array of enemies lacked imagination. Al-Asad only mentioned Israel by name as a threat and placed the rest of the blame on unspecified “satellite channels” and “foreign conspiracies.” 

 Al-Asad declared that Syria is facing “a great conspiracy, the webs of which spread from far away countries and close countries, and some of whose strings reach inside the country.” He further conceded that these enemies were “smart” in choosing techniques like satellite TV and SMS to infiltrate Syria but the Syrians “note their stupidity in that they chose the wrong country and people, as this kind of conspiracy does not work here.”

 The commentary in the global media following Al-Asad’s speech has characterized his statements as a conspiracy theory.  However the notion of a conspiracy theory is subjective. One person’s conspiracy theory is another person’s truth.  What Al-Asad was explaining to a Syrian audience and a global one at that was the Ba’athist/Syrian interpretative schemata or framework for understanding the world around them. 

 The Syrian state could retort, “Who are the foreign media to question our version of the truth?”  As long as the Al-Asad and the Baath believe what he says is the truth, then it is the “truth.”  Has any state provided him with any evidence to counter his argument?

 Of course I do not argue that Al-Asad’s speech should be taken at face value.  Rather the speech should be analyzed by what it says and what it did not say at the same time.

 Al-Asad declared that the protests were part of a plot “to weaken Syria, for Syria to crumble, and for the final obstacle in the face of the Israeli plan fall and be removed. This is what concerns us.”  It followed a similar pattern throughout this season of revolts of placing blame on foreign powers seeking to undermine incumbent regimes, whether they be in Damascus, Cairo, or Manama.  The speeches made by leaders threatened by domestic uprisings from Benghazi to Damascus play upon a victim-hood psychosis.

 Such themes were also highlighted during a recent speech by Buythana Sha’aban, the de-facto spokeswoman of the Syrian state, to a conference of the Ba’ath Party.  She said, “The second thing that is being targeted in Syria is the beautiful co-existence in this country.  As you have seen, this region is targeted to make it a sectarian, parochial, and ethnic-based region.” Sha’aban’s fears express a sentiment that probably harkens back to the French colonial era when the Syrian mandate was carved up into mini-statelets for the Druze and Alawite communities.

 This harkening back to the past was also evident in Al-Asad’s speech. It was replete with notions of nostalgia for the Syria in the pan-Arab framework of the sixties.  He reiterated Syria’s support for “pan-Arab rights and independence, and supporting Arab resistance movements when there is occupation.” This rhetorical tactic was similar to Mubarak’s attempts to remind Egyptians of the glories of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and his role in that conflict.

 Foreign plots. Antagonism towards Israel.  Syria as the vanguard of Arabism.  Those are the Syrian state’s truths.  What about the truths that it failed to acknowledge? 

 Al-Asad deflected the issue of reforms arguing that reforms were sought back in 2005, which were stymied due to “negligence, tardiness, procrastination, and other factors that we as fellow countrymen know.” He says that “there are no obstacles [to reform], there is only procrastination, and there are no opponents – the opponents are those with personal interests and the corrupt, and as you know, this was a small group of people who are no longer around.”

 However, in the eyes of critics of the regime, this “small group” of people is still around.  While the uprisings in the region were a product of restive youth, calls for greater freedoms, revolts against heavy-handed tactics by the security forces, they were also revolts against the systems of patronage that have become one of the crucial pillars of regime survival in the region.  This has been a season of revolutions against patronage.

 The villains during these revolts have been ranged from the kleptocratic Trabelsi clan in Tunisia, Gaddafi’s sons and their extravagant lifestyles, to the fortunes amassed by the business in-groups around Mubarak.   One of the targets demonstrators attacked in Dera, the southern Syrian town, were the monopoly businesses operated by Rami Makhluf, the cousin of Bashar. 

 In regards to the deaths of protestors Al-Asad said: “The blood that was shed was Syrian blood. We are all concerned with it as it is our blood. The victims are our brothers and their families are our families.”  The Syrian president promised that he would investigate the persons responsible behind the deaths of the demonstrators. 

 However what he failed to acknowledge is Syria is a hyper-security state.  The persons behind the demonstrator’s deaths were probably members of the dizzying array of security apparatuses that maintain the regime. 

 A heavy handed police state.  Corruption and patronage among the regime elites.  Those are the truths for many of the Syrian people.  Addressing those truths would have guaranteed Al-Asad’s survival more effectively than the jaded strategy of deflecting local problems on foreign enemies.


Linda April 18, 2011 - 7:56 pm

This may seem as a conspiracy theory to you, and us simpletons living here don’t know what we are talking about. I can’t talk about Daraa cause I don’t live there, but here in Latakia the people who were shot and killed were the police and the army and the people who killed them were from other nationalities “Iraqis, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc” they roamed our city in their cars shooting civilians, not protesters. And lets not forget all of the weapons that we caught being smuggled fom Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. Does it sound like a conspiracy theory to you?
I am not even going to go through the awsome media coverage, cause it is just hilareous.

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