What if we were to ask Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would he commit the crime of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri if he were to go back in time?
Hariri was killed around this time 10 years ago. It was a politically-motivated crime which shocked the region and it was a historic milestone which has changed the political equation. Following his assassination, and also as a direct result of it lots of blood has been shed, staining both Lebanon and Syria.
I don’t know what the Syrian president is thinking, but his power and governance changed a lot. Was the assassination of Hariri the mere whim of a young man who had just ascended to power and who refused to take “no” for an answer? Or was it an Iranian-Syrian scheme orchestrated with Hezbollah to get rid of rival leaders and curb opponents?
To remind ourselves of the question at hand, would Assad have done it if he could have read the future?Abdulrahman al-Rashed
I cannot confirm whether it was a whim or if it was driven by the desire to dominate. But the series of assassinations which followed the murder of Hariri implied that Assad, along with Hezbollah, were working to eliminate the opposing camp and perhaps rule Lebanon. It must be said, though, that when it comes to Lebanese affairs, it’s not possible to place the issues of sectarianism and conflicting forces - with shifting loyalties and alliances – on the back burner. The murderous elimination of political, security and media leaders only increased the Lebanese people’s resolve to stick to their positions and pushed them toward further entrenchment, especially with regard to what later came to be known as the March 14 coalition.
Would Assad have done it?
To remind ourselves of the question at hand, would Assad have done it if he could have read the future?
Of course we don’t know what is going on in his mind, but what we can infer from his recent interview with the BBC is that he is incapable of uttering the words “I admit” and “I’m sorry.” Despite killing a quarter of a million Syrians and displacing nine million others, he refused to admit to any of the mistakes he has committed. This is true even when he responded to questions on the beginning of the revolution. He insisted on repeating that he is responsible for protecting his people from terrorists! It’s been 10 years since the assassination of Hariri and he is still incapable of admitting his mistakes when handling Lebanese affairs. It’s been four years since the Syrian uprising and he still refuses to admit any wrongdoing. Thus, it is fair to say he hasn’t changed at all.
His crime of assassinating Hariri is the most important event of his life. Ever since that dark day when Hariri was murdered, Assad has been confined to a dark box. Following the crime, the U.N. Security Council forced him to withdraw his forces from Lebanon. He was also directly accused of orchestrating the crime and was politically besieged for four years. Furthermore, governments who were once friendly with him, such as Gulf and European governments, boycotted him and his foreign affairs ministry became focused on denying accusations. At the beginning of 2009 – five years after the murder of Hariri – his isolation receded slightly at the Kuwait economic summit after a reconciliation was announced. However, assassinations continued, implying that the president hadn’t changed his ways, perhaps indicating that he saw the summit outcome as a win rather than a reconciliation. This superior attitude towards others and lack of value for human life as well as regional and international powers led him to face revolt in Daraa and other Syrian cities. He has now ended up besieged in Damascus.
Today, Assad is just a president on paper and is shored up by Iranian leaders and Iraqi and Hezbollah militias who fight his battles for him. Who would have thought that assassinating a peaceful man like Hariri, who had no militia or tribe to defend him, would lead to all these wars and suffering?
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on February 12, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.SHOW MORE