The Jerusalem Post
(June 11) - From a Syrian viewpoint, the death last week of President Hafez Assad is anything but untimely.

Geopolitically, Assad hinged his entire foreign policy on the existence of the Cold War and reliance on the Soviet Union, remaining addicted to its sinking shares even the morning after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A much more worldly Anwar Sadat knew better than that, so much so that as early as 1972 he had the vision to switch sides from East to West, a transition from which Cairo benefits until today, and which Damascus had yet to fully emulate even as it buries its leader of nearly three decades.

Similarly, Assad will be remembered as an ideologue who was so blinded by narrow nationalism that he rejected at least three opportunities to make peace with Israel - first with Yitzhak Rabin, then with Shimon Peres and most recently with Ehud Barak - even when most fellow Arab leaders, not to mention Western statesmen and experts, pointed in the other direction. Economically, the provincial Assad inflicted immeasurable damage on a country whose time-honored urban merchant class could have generated some prosperity, if only allowed more freedom of enterprise.

Assad´s Soviet-inspired collectivization of farming in the 1970s nearly destroyed the sector which all along has been the backbone of his economy. Meanwhile his reluctance to devolve power to the middle classes has made him fail to deliver his promise - made in 1990 - to open a stock market in Damascus. At the same time, the regime´s inherent suspicion of freely flowing information has made it supervise and limit even the usage of such business essentials as computer modems and fax machines. Above all these hovered a double-headed macro-economic beast comprising a rare combination of state ownership and clan management.

As he died, Assad´s economy disgracefully relied on remittances from more than half-a-million guest-workers he ended up exporting to Lebanon - a historically unique instance where vanquished employs victor - and from soon-to-be-exhausted oil exports.

Politically, Assad´s successors are inheriting a police state where thousands have little reason to genuinely support their self-appointed leader´s self-chosen heir. Bashar´s potential rivals, besides spanning a broad range of harassed ethnic groups and suppressed business circles, include some of his father´s most loyal supporters who in recent weeks were expelled from Syria´s corridors of power in order to make way for a man whose lineage is much more obvious than his virtues.

Indeed, the tendency among some pundits to hail Assad´s ostensibly thoughtful construction of a succession mechanism has yet to endure the test of time.

Whether in terms of his personality and experience or in terms of geopolitical circumstances, Bashar stands little chance of surviving so long as Syria´s political mentality remains centered around the two hallmarks of his father´s rule, namely the worship of raw power and the total intolerance of dissent.

Unlike his father, Bashar will lack the aura of a humbly born warrior who killed people before, during and after seizing leadership. Moreover, Bashar will not be able to do the kinds of things - most memorably the Hamma massacre of 1982 - his father could get away with while enjoying the backing of a superpower and lacking the scrutiny of a satellite-fueled and Internet-fanned world media.

Widespread talk of the stability bequeathed by Assad senior neglects to juxtapose it not only with its specifically Syrian price, but also with the far lower costs the same accomplishment exacted elsewhere in the Arab world. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, not to mention some of the Gulf states, have been no less stable than Assad´s Syria, but far more open, whether politically or economically.

The least Bashar Assad can be expected by his people, if indeed he endures the personal opposition awaiting him, would be to allow them the kinds of freedoms enjoyed in other Arab countries. Anything beyond that would be a bonus, both for Syria and its neighbors, and anything short of that would be a recipe for catastrophe.
The writer is editor of The Jerusalem Post International Edition

Encuentro de monjes de varias confesiones cristianas en Subiaco y Roma

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