The most interesting part of Bashar al-Assad’s speech is the fact that it was delivered in the Damascus Opera House, the most suitable place for such a theatrical performance of a pre-written script that added nothing new for a people going through the worst political and military crisis in its history.
It is obvious from the speech that the once-formidable president is losing power, is totally isolated from the reality of his country, and is wasting every chance at negotiating with the opposition, which controls large swathes of the country, including parts of Aleppo and Damascus.
The president’s speech on Sunday was an attempt, maybe for the last time, to impact the negotiations taking place inside and outside Syria, and to put an end to the battles raging all over the country.
If he had not mentioned the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in such a casual manner, and if he had focused more on their hardships, he might have seemed more sincere. If he had shed one tear for the thousands who have lost their lives because of his intransigence, he would have won some supporters. If he had hinted at the possibility of stepping down, or acknowledged the legitimacy of the opposition, he might have gotten more listeners for his coming speeches, if any.
However, Assad offered nothing except the image of a typical Arab dictator right before his fall. He repeated Tunisian former President Zine al-Abidine bin Ali’s famous phrase “I got you,” which he said without any idea what the Tunisian people wanted; and Egyptian former President Hosni Mubarak’s “dear citizens,” even though he never treated them as dear; and seemed to be asking Libyan former leader Muammar Qaddafi’s dramatic question “who are you?” through labeling the revolutionaries as “terrorists” and “a bunch of criminals.”
Assad presented his approach to ending the Syrian crisis, yet his speech was met with utter apathy because no one believes anything can happen on the ground.
Like other Arab leaders before him, Assad is left with nothing to do except deliver speeches in heavily secured places. Sunday’s speech could be the first that heralds Assad’s fall.
*This article was first published in Lebanon’s an-Nahar newspaper on Jan. 8, 2013.
(Multi-award-winning journalist Octavia Nasr served as CNN’s senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media. She moved to CNN in 1990, but was dismissed in 2010 after tweeting her sorrow at the death of Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fadlallah. Nasr now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose main aim is to help companies better leverage the use of social networks.)