Bashar al-Assad’s dogma of survival

Although Syria still occupies world attention, it is isolated and stuck within Assad’s political narrative dynamics

Dr. Halla Diyab
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More than three years have passed since the Syrian conflict erupted, with the death toll surpassing 191,000, including women and children. Syria is constantly changing into a divided state, with different areas under the control of various armed factions, including the terrorists ISIS. Throughout this, there is only one unchanging fact; Bashar al-Assad is still in power. With his uncompromised grip on the power, Assad seems to have proven his reliability not only as a ruthless autocrat, but also as a very stubborn man.

The Syrian opposition has been criticized and accused as being totally controlled by its hatred of Assad, changing him into a national symbol of public hatred by channeling the Syrians’ frustration and feelings of injustice towards Assad. The Syrian political narratives have been personalized, leading Syria to be caught in a vicious circle of blame and passive aggression. While Syrians remain divided, and the opportunity for a national Syrian reconciliation seems bleak, Assad has enough reason to be confident that he will stay in power at least for some time to come.

The longer the conflict drags on, the more people’s appetite for political change will die out

Dr. Halla Diyab

Although Syria still occupies world attention, it is isolated and stuck within Assad’s political narrative dynamics. Assad has tightened the rope around Syria’s belly, campaigning that he is gripping on to power because he cannot abandon Syria while it is at war. He is, however, totally ignoring the fact that he chose to go to war to stay in power. Choosing war over resignation has played to Assad’s advantage and to the survival of his regime; the longer the conflict drags on, the more people’s appetite for political change will die out, the opposition forces will be drained out, Syrians will be divided and national unity will gradually be destroyed.

Military option

In 2011, Assad favored the military option to a peaceful political transition that could have saved thousands of lives and the gruesome bloodshed. Assad gradually internalized the idea he manufactured; that he is defending Syria and reserving the legacy of Syria which his father, Hafez al-Assad, sculpted. He also thinks by stepping down he will lose face as a self-proclaimed anti-imperialist leader across the Middle East region.

So, where does Syria go from here? How can Syria break free from this vicious cycle and rise from the ashes? There is a simple answer to this but it seems a change in attitude is urgently required. The Syrians need to depart from oedipal phases and a fixation of reliance and dependence on any sort of authority to provide security, food, electricity and all necessities of survival. Assad’s dynasty has been feeding this fixation through free medical care, free education, security-state, tax-free wages as a tactic to maintain people’s reliance on the state. Assad has gradually transformed Syrians into compulsive dependent adult- juveniles. They renewed their allegiance to Assad because they are satisfied with their comfort zone; where all their survival necessities are provided by the authority as long as they give in to that central authority.

Fixation with authority

The Syrian uprising was a shock not only to Assad but also to those among the Syrians who were content with the status quo that nourished their fixation with authority. Considering Syria’s national average wage, unless you are one of Assad’s inner circle or are supported by a relative working outside Syria, you cannot survive with whatever you save, it seems. I do not believe this is a coincidence, but rather part of Assad’s plan to tighten the grip around Syrians.

Assad enhanced certain personality traits to stop people from breaking free from the chains of a dependent relationship with authorities. People gradually internalize the myth of the “people’s incapability” which the regime feeds on to sustain power. The masses have been trained and accustomed to trust the regime’s choice of who is capable to lead, and who is not, who should be involved in politics, and who should not. Subsequently, those in power gain assured legitimacy.

Since the uprising, Syrians have been regressed to victims, and the people’s impulse for change has been hampered by agony, hunger, displacement, escape and loss. The message Assad aims to convey to Syrians is that by challenging his authority, you lose his protection and endanger the basics of your survival. Unfortunately people gradually have internalized this idea. Syrians need to take a mental leap and believe that they are capable of getting involved in politics, leading the country, empowering their communities, coming out of their shells and being liberated from within to lead their nation’s political change.

Political change is not only reliant on people’s will, but also requires a change to the state’s attitude toward the concept of power. Authorities should not see themselves as owners of Syria, but rather as employees appointed by the people to run the affairs of the country in the people’s best interest. In case they fail to fulfil their duties, they need to step down and pass the gauntlet of power on.


Dr. Halla Diyab is an award winning screen-writer, producer, broadcaster, a published author and an activist. She has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of Leicester. She carried out research in New Orleans, USA while working on her thesis “The Examination of Marginality and Minorities in the Drama and Film of Tennessee Wil-liams”. She holds an MA in Gender and Women Studies from the University of Warwick. She has written a number of scripts for TV dramas countering religious extremism and international terrorism resulting in her being awarded Best Syrian Drama Script Award 2010 and the Artists Achievement Award 2011. She is a regular commentator in the Brit-ish and international media and has recently appeared on Channel 4 News, BBC Newsnight, BBC This Week, CNN, Sky News, Channel 5 News, ITV Central, Al Jazeera English, and BBC Radio 4, to name a few. She is a public speaker who spoke at the House of Commons, the Spectator Debate, Uniting for Peace and London’s Frontline Club. She has worked in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria and is an expert on the Middle East and Islamic culture. As a highly successful drama writer, she has been dubbed ‘one of the most influential women in Syria’ in 2011. She also produces documentary films for UK and international channels. She is also the Founder & Director of Liberty Media Productions which focuses on cross-cultural issues between Britain and the Middle East. She can be found on Twitter: @drhalladiyab

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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