Al-Assad puts the future of Syria in the hands of the military

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, walks among the audience during the ceremony of taking the constitutional oath at the Syrian presidential palace in the capital, Damascus- 17 July 2021(Syrian Presidency) 

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, walks among the audience during the ceremony of taking the constitutional oath at the Syrian presidential palace in the capital, Damascus- 17 July 2021(Syrian Presidency) 

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Enab Baladi – Amal Rantisi

The inaugural speech by the President of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, had clear political messages. Al-Assad glorified the military and its role in what he described as “liberating the rest of national territory.”

Al-Assad addressed the attendees during the swearing-in ceremony on 17 July at the Republican Palace, emphasizing the significance of having “faith in the military.”

He said, “our belief in the [Syrian] army, and embracing its presence, has achieved national security and it will continue to liberate the entire country even after a while.”

In the past, only a few military figures attended the constitutional swearing-in ceremony. However, this year about a quarter of the guests of the Presidential Palace were military officers wearing their military uniforms, Enab Baladi observed, comparing 2021’s to 2014’s picture of the ceremony. 

It has become a habit for al-Assad to take his “constitutional oath” in the “Republican Palace” instead of the People’s Assembly, even though the constitution stipulates “that the elected president takes his oath in the People’s Assembly before he begins his presidential duties.”

New oath protocols

Former diplomat and non-resident research fellow at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Danny Albaaj, referred to the historical precedents on taking the constitutional oath.

Albaaj told Enab Baladi that the oath must be made in the People’s Assembly in the presence of Assembly members and guests, chosen by the Palace, seated in the balconies. 

He pointed out that since the constitution was amended in 2014, the Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam, who is responsible for regulating the inauguration protocols, intended to change the procedures for holding the swearing-in ceremony. It now takes place in the Presidential Palace, instead of the People’s Assembly, to offer Bashar al-Assad both protection and security. Guests are also invited to the Presidential Palace.  

Former diplomat Albaaj said that al-Assad is now following the ceremonial style of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is to walk alone into the hall and take the oath. In the recent ceremonies, al-Assad was accompanied by two members of the elite Syrian Republican Guards. 

Albaaj said that the Assad regime wanted to deliver a political message through the presence of many military figures in the inauguration ceremony. The message promotes the idea that al-Assad and his backers have achieved victory as calmness prevails on the combat fronts amid an absence of fierce military action. The soldiers are present in front of you, attending the inaugural speech in the Presidential Palace, not in the battles.

Military is the pillar of the Assad family

For her part, Rahaf al-Daghli, holder of a Ph.D. in political science and lecturer at Lancaster University in the UK, said that there are two theories to analyze why al-Assad wants to increase the number of the military in those ceremonies. 

First, the Assad regime began with a military coup– Hafez al-Assad regime came to power via a military coup d’état in 1970– and its military wing was the mainstay for extending its influence and control.

Second, the Baath regime, under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad, and then of his son Bashar, relied on perpetuating a military ideology. This ideology says that the concepts of citizenship and belonging are associated with the extent of a person’s support for the army and military symbols.  

The increasing military presence is just symbolic of what the regime has always promoted in its speeches; the military machine is responsible for achieving victory and that saving the country came with the army’s dedication to the symbol of Assad and his survival, according to al-Daghli. 

Al-Daghli previously worked on analyzing Assad’s speeches. Additionally, her to be published first book addresses masculinity and patriotism in official discourses in Syria. 

Following the Russian military intervention in Syria’s conflict in 2015 and the increasing military actions, al-Assad adapted his speeches to reduce and diminish the concept of belonging to Syria in terms of the extent of defence and physical sacrifice, an indication that al-Assad is reshaping Syrian patriotism on a military basis, thus normalizing the “ideology of militarism.”

Al-Daghli added that the symbolic speech regarding the increasing number of military personnel could not be separated from the current military and geopolitical context familiar with Syria.

During his speech, al-Assad praised the military personnel of the armed forces, whom he described as “the shield of the homeland and the source of heroism because they persevered and defended the homeland to the last drop of blood.”

He also stressed on “liberating the rest of the land from terrorists, and their Turkish and American backers.”

According to al-Daghli, al-Assad reminds citizens that the battle is still going on and that the homeland’s survival depends mainly on the army’s capacity to re-control the rest of Syria. Al-Assad literally said that he has to face two things: the liberation of the rest of the Syrian lands and then the economic crisis.

Al-Daghli believes that attaching more importance to the battle of liberation at the expense of the crisis experienced by the ordinary citizen is nothing but a re-dedication to the concept that the homeland is with its army. This is one of the characteristics of tyrannical states that are not concerned with the dignity and freedom of their citizens.

Going backwards

Al-Assad focused on writing history in his last speech. He confirmed his version of what happened during the previous ten years by saying, “We are in a speech of an oath that is supposed to be about a future stage, So, why are we going back ten years?”

The head of the Syrian regime considered that “analysis” and “learning the lessons of” ten years’ war are regarded as the first step to talking about a future stage. He stressed that anyone who disagrees with him is considered a “terrorist,” enshrining the concept of “betrayal” to the homeland. Additionally, he highlighted that the state “is not the one who initiated the violence.”

Al-Daghli believes that rumination, guardianship and repetition are among the basic features of all Bashar al-Assad’s speeches since 2011, delivered at different times and for different reasons. 

He repeats the same sentences and the same concepts, on the rhetorical level, and has also changed his mechanisms by relying on the Sunni sheikhdom and relying more on religion and the right to represent what he describes as the “correct religion,” to secure a popular base made of the Sunnis.

The Syrian regime-held formal elections, described as a “theatrical farce,”  ended on 26 May, with Bashar al-Assad winning 95.1 percent in front of two unknown candidates.

The Syrian presidential elections were met with international rejection, while the countries allied to the Syrian regime, such as Russia, Iran and China, supported them.

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