After three years of grinding conflict, the destruction of whole city districts and an exodus of refugees all triggered by an uprising against his rule, Bashar al-Assad is quietly preparing to be re-elected.
The Syrian president has not yet announced whether he will stand for a third term, in defiance of protesters, rebel fighters and Western foes who have demanded he go; but in state-controlled parts of Damascus preparations for his candidacy are unmistakable.
Public gatherings have become platforms to urge the president to nominate himself, despite a continuing civil war that has killed more than 140,000 people, fractured the country and destroyed any chance of a credible vote being held.
Authorities are once again organizing demonstrations in support of Assad, accused by opponents of massacres of civilians. Shopkeepers are encouraged to show their support by painting national colors on their store fronts.
Some express their loyalty in general displays of patriotism, while others explicitly call on the 48-year-old president to announce he will stand in the vote, which is due to be held by July.
Just 18 months ago, Assad’s grip over his capital seemed to be slipping as rebels gained ground around Damascus. Since then his forces have consolidated control in central Syria. Rebels still insist his departure is precondition for any peace deal, but having lost military momentum they are unable to dictate terms.
At a gathering in southern Damascus last month to honor victims of Syria’s conflict, local officials and clerics turned the solemn memorial into a political rally.
After handing out awards to widows and grieving mothers in Sayida Zeinab, a suburb of the capital which has been at the heart of Assad’s counter-attack against rebels, they made their case for a third term of Assad rule.
“The president said: ‘If there is a popular demand for me to be nominated, I will run. I will not abandon my national duty’,” said Shiite Muslim cleric Al Sayyed Fadi Burhan.
“So I ask you to take advantage of this large gathering ... and make it an opportunity to ask President Bashar al-Assad to nominate himself for another electoral term.”
The crowd, mainly loyalists, cheered.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر