“Victory is my survival”: Al-Assad divides Syrians against each other in the election speech

Head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad during a speech after announcing his victory in the elections - 28 May 2021 ( Presidency of the Syrian Republic)

Head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad during a speech after announcing his victory in the elections - 28 May 2021 ( Presidency of the Syrian Republic)

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Enab Baladi-Noureddin Ramadan

The president of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, has not missed the opportunity to address and glorify his constituents after declaring his victory in the Syrian presidential election for a fourth term since he took office in 2000. He used somewhat insulting language against all those who opposed him, even Syrians, during his “victory” speech. 

On 18 May, incumbent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a ten-minute televised “victory” speech, as described by the state media. During the speech, al-Assad did not discuss his future plans with the new electoral mandate, like most officials do when winning their presidency. Instead, he attacked his opponents. His speech clearly lacked inclusive language that could open the door for reconciliation and collective action aimed at improving Syrians’ lives.

Al-Assad has been clinging to the same rhetoric since the 2011 revolution, accusing everyone opposing him of treason and terrorism without any hints to reforms or a fundamental change in his future policies. 

The speech came after the Syrian People’s Assembly announced al-Assad’s victory in the presidential elections, decried by the UN, the EU, and the US, with a vote share of 95.1 percent in front of two obscure candidates—Mahmoud Ahmad Marei and Abdullah Salloum. Marei got 3.3 percent of the votes, while Salloum received 1.5 percent.  

In celebration of the election, al-Assad advocates rallied in regime-held areas, waving Syrian flags and carrying pictures of al-Assad. Some danced, and others beat drums. On the other hand, thousands of Syrians abroad, in opposition-held areas, and even in areas where settlement agreements with the regime have been signed, such as Daraa and Quneitra in Southern Syria, protested the election, chanting anti-election slogans and holding revolution flags.    

The speech, does it have anger and weakness at root?

Journalist Sakhr Idris told Enab Baladi that al-Assad did not abide by inauguration speech protocols, insulting those who went against him and describing them as “raging bulls.” This indicates that al-Assad has psychological issues, Idris said.  

Idris said al-Assad’s body language, regardless of who wrote the speech, suggests that he is terribly angery. Al-Assad cannot stand the idea that numerous Syrians are opposing him and have boycotted the election.

Idris added this is not the first time al-Assad has exploited the rift between Syrians. He has previously left no room for people to take neutral views; they have just two options, either to be on his side or on the side of those who he calls “terrorists.”

Victory is the ruler’s survival

Syrian journalist Nidal Maalouf indicated that al-Assad, in his last speech, seemed proud of his victory. However, in general, the problem in Syria is that victory is always measured by the ruler’s survival.   

Maalouf told Enab Baladi, should the victory standards be our country’s wellbeing, then, considering the country’s current state, “we would be talking about a bitter defeat, that Syria has not seen the like since its inception as a state.”

He added, “We hoped that the speech would be a comprehensive one, adressing all segments of the population, calling for putting aside differences, and working to bring together all Syrians dispreced today inside and outside their country. We thought that the speech would be a call for the return of millions of Syrian refugees in order to restore the unity of geography and the people, and a call for amnesty, and pardon in addition to putting national interests ahead of personal ones, and enduring the pain of wounds and harm for the sake of a better future for Syria.”

“Unfortunately, this did not happen.” According to Maalouf, “al-Assad’s speech is schadenfreude, with spite for those who see that Bashar al-Assad’s stay in power no longer serves Syria. However, only mature Syrians know well that Syria, in the past 20 years, under al-Assad’s rule, has been destroyed, divided, impoverished, and occupied.”  

Maalouf said that victory standards should be linked to the homeland, not the individual. Victory has something to do with the survival of the homeland, not of the individual. “Al-Assad’s speech reinforces the concept of reverence of individuals and links victory only with  his survival. This portends to lose what is left of Syria at the expense of a false victory with one individual remaining on the throne.”

According to the data released by the UN,  90 percent of Syrians today live below the poverty line. Around 6.6 million Syrians left their country entirely, and another 6.7 million are internally displaced inside Syria, amounting to half of the Syrian people. 

Arrogant speech

The 95.1 percent of votes al-Assad got is seen by lecturer in the Middle East and North African Studies, Rahaf al-Doughli, as an expression and confirmation of the hubristic official discourse directed at Syrians at home and abroad.

Al-Doughli tweeted that the regime’s choice of the alleged 95.1-percent-victory of al-Assad—significantly higher than 2014 election results, by 88 percent—sends a message to western countries that al-Assad is armed with great popularity.

She also said that masochism and fascism of voting with blood present horrifying images for everyone. In regime-held areas, some people pinch their fingers with a needle or sharp tools to vote with blood as a gesture of their deep loyalty to al-Assad.

Al-Doughli believes that Syrian politicians in Syria have identified with the regime, and their concept of belonging to the homeland became dwarfed by al-Assad’s personality. This identification, in fact, is the result of an ideology centralized on the worship of one individual for more than five decades in which the individuality citizens gets obliterated.

Allied countries congratulate al-Assad 

 The Syrian regime’s allies congratulated al-Assad after the Syrian People’s Assembly announced his presidential victory. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory telegram to al-Assad on 28 May, saying, “The voting results have fully confirmed your immense political prestige, and the trust [your] fellow citizens have for the policy pursued under your leadership towards stabilizing the situation in Syria as quickly as possible and strengthening its state institutions.”

Putin stressed that Moscow will continue to support the Syrian regime in “fighting terrorism,” advancing the process of a political settlement and rebuilding the country after the end of the conflict.

The Russian president did not call to congratulate al-Assad on winning a fourth presidential term, as he usually does with his allies. Putin usually congratulates, via phone call, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Belarus, countries that have strong ties with Russia, even the western ones, on their victory. The Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied that Putin wanted to make any contact in the next stage with al-Assad.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry congratulated al-Assad on his “decisive” victory in the presidential elections. “The successful holding of elections and the massive turnout of Syrian people is an important step towards the establishment of peace, stability, calm, reconstruction, and prosperity of Syria.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also congratulated al-Assad on his reelection, adding that this year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Syria, “characterized by a long-standing friendship.”

Al-Assad received a congratulatory cable from President of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, in which he said that the presidential elections were a “victory for peace” under the leadership of al-Assad, reiterating his country’s support for the Syrian regime and its willingness to “deepen and expand bilateral cooperation to contribute to the prosperity of both peoples.”

Venezuela and China are considered among the countries supporting the Syrian regime. They have not severed their political relations with the al-Assad regime since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. Russia and Iran are interfering militarily in Syria’s war on the Syrian regime’s side.

These countries congratulated al-Assad on his presidential victory after major countries condemned the elections. The foreign ministers of the US, France, the UK, Germany, and Italy denounced holding elections in Syria outside the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. They also rejected the electoral process and described it as illegitimate. 

In a 25 May-joint statement, the foreign ministers said that “free and fair elections must be held under the UN supervision in accordance with the highest international standards of transparency and accountability.”

The statement added that fair elections must occur under the UN supervision and that all Syrians should be allowed to participate, including displaced Syrians, refugees, and members of the diaspora, in a safe and neutral environment.

The ministers expressed their support for the voices of all Syrians that condemned the electoral process, including the Syrian opposition and civil society organizations.

The UN also announced that it was not involved in the presidential elections that took place in Syria, stressing the importance of reaching a political solution under Security Council Resolution No. 2254.

UN secretary-general’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on 21 April, “We are not involved in these elections … in any way, and we, of course, have no mandate to be.”

“These are being called under the auspices of the current constitution and not part of the political process that was established under resolution 2254.”

He added, “We continue to emphasize the importance of a political solution to the conflict, and I would like to stress here the fact that Security Council Resolution (2254) gives us a mandate to contribute to a political process that will culminate in free and fair elections under a new constitution, under the auspices of the UN in accordance with the highest international standards to include all Syrians, including members of the diaspora.”

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