Messages to allies and enemies, Assad returns to Ba’ath bases

Bashar al-Assad’s meeting with the Central Committee of the Ba’ath Party - December 16, 2023 (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Bashar al-Assad’s meeting with the Central Committee of the Ba’ath Party - December 16, 2023 (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi

The President of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, has shown interest in the upcoming internal elections of the Ba’ath Party, the ruling party in Syria since 1963.

At first glance, the interest seems logical and natural, considering that al-Assad is defined by the party as the “Secretary General of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party”, meaning that he is the general leader of the party in Syria.

The circumstances that the party has gone through in recent years in Syria have weakened its position in the country, evident in the loss of a wide segment of its popularity, as admitted by al-Assad himself recently, and the defections that accompanied the onset of the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Al-Assad met with the High Committee for Supervising the Elections on last December 25, considering the latter as “tools for developing party work”, preceded by a meeting with the Central Committee of the party on the 16th of the same month.

Between the two meetings, al-Assad also held a meeting with the Secretary General of the party in Lebanon, Ali Hijazi.

In parallel with al-Assad’s meetings, the Ba’ath Party promoted the elections, whether through the official party newspaper or through the Prime Minister’s office account. The Assistant Secretary General, Hilal Hilal, also held a meeting with the party’s Central Committee two days after al-Assad’s meeting in preparation for the elections.

These meetings, gatherings, and statements come amidst delicate circumstances in Syria, between the influence of al-Assad’s allies in the country (Russia and Iran), the economic and political crisis, and the Arab openness according to the “Arab Initiative,” which included conditions carried by the Arabs for al-Assad, following his return to occupy Syria’s seat at the Arab League in last May.

Addressing military cadres

In his speech before the Central Committee on December 16, al-Assad admitted to the party’s diminished role in Syrian society and the mistakes committed in recent years, yet his speech, parts of which were broadcast by Ba’ath Party identifiers, seemed directed to the “Baathists” in the military, not the politicians, with a reference to the regime’s army, and ridicule of the Israeli occupation army.

There are no precise figures for the number of Ba’ath Party members within the regime forces, but the party has long forced students in schools and universities to join it.

It is logical that if al-Assad sees that the party is important at the present time, he would speak to the Central Committee and thus to the political side, especially with his reference to what is supposed to be the role of “party cadres” in reviving the Ba’ath anew. However, the discussion also targets the military cadres, opening the question of the implications of this direction under the current circumstances.

The director of the Jusoor Center for Studies, Mohammed Sarmini, stated in an interview with Enab Baladi that after the almost complete cessation of military operations in Syria since 2020, the Syrian regime faced new crises that are not solely derived from the security or military threats it previously faced, as there is also the difficulty of controlling the fragmented and war-torn communities and its aftermath.

He added that the popular incubator for the regime, forced to show allegiance to it, has narrowed after the economic sanctions, and the transformation of the state and its government into structures incapable of offering anything, and the security groups turned into cells for kidnapping, extortion, and drug trafficking.

In this scene, the head of the regime was forced to “regather” the ruling party, which lost its value as the regime turned away from politics in favor of the military solution in an attempt by al-Assad to reactivate the party cells to monitor and control the disgruntled society and ensure the regime’s preservation of the overall stable scene under its control, preventing the repetition of the As-Suwayda scene in the rest of the provinces, according to Sarmini.

As-Suwayda has been witnessing continuous demonstrations since last August, demanding the downfall of the Syrian regime, the departure of al-Assad, and the implementation of UN Resolution 2254. Voices from the areas of the Syrian coast, which include a segment of al-Assad’s popular incubator, have also appeared on social media, criticizing the latter several times in the past months.

Al-Assad is not the only one who focused on the role of the party that reached the helm of power through a military coup in 1963, as the Ba’ath-affiliated newspaper “Al-Baath” emphasized through several articles the concept of “reviving the Ba’ath.”

Former Ba’ath Party leader Nasser Saba told Enab Baladi that al-Assad’s focus on the party today “reflects a state of bankruptcy,” and there is no meaning to what he mentions in his speeches, especially as there is no popular support for political parties in Syria today, but rather conflicting militias and a loss of sovereignty, in his opinion.

Meanwhile, Sarmini believes that the Syrian regime is built on the security cadres and their role in monitoring the society and institutions, including its civil and military institutions, civil society, political forces, and parties.

As a result, the official or media discourse of the regime is directed at the security and military cadres within the army and the party, while the regime relatively maintains the prospects of the military and security cadres in the black resources it manages in post-war Syria, according to what Sarmini told Enab Baladi.

Messages to popular incubator, allies, and Arabs

In the same speech, al-Assad focused on the Israeli military operation against the Gaza Strip, reaffirming his support for the “Axis of Resistance,” and discussed the “resistance” in Lebanon, referring to Hezbollah, and affirmed his stance in support of it, and said that what protects Syria “is the belief in causes and the existence of constants.”

Between the lines, al-Assad responds again to the Arab Initiative to distance himself from Iran by declaring his standing there as part of a clear and supportive position for Hezbollah and Iran and that what protects Syria is the belief in causes and constants. He also saluted the Palestinian resistance without explicitly mentioning the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).

Al-Assad’s statements before the Central Committee carry, through his speech and ridicule of the “Zionist humanitarian army” and American bases in the Arabian Gulf, a clear message that may not directly correspond with the provisions of the Arab Initiative.

The initiative consists of three chronological phases and the second phase states the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria, reducing their military presence in it, geographically and armament-wise, regaining the properties that Iran seized in Syria, withdrawing the Shiite militias and Hezbollah, and addressing the neighboring countries’ fears regarding drug smuggling from Syria.

During the current circumstances, al-Assad does not seem capable of economically and militarily implementing the phase related to Iran, and despite his distance from opening a limited northern front similar to his ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Iranian militias have recorded their presence on several occasions in the recent period.

The military operations against the Gaza Strip since last October have created political alignments at the Arab level.

Amid the complications of the political and military scenes, al-Assad is trying to stay in the middle, between overt support for Iran and attempting to continue the Arab normalization file.

Sarmini believes that the official and media discourse of the regime is a continuation of the narrative it adopts in denying reality, a narrative it usually directs in messages that the entire people must repeat and adhere to, to prove that they are not agents of the enemies. At the same time, the regime conveys these messages to the countries that have normalized or are normalizing relations with it by achieving stability and overcoming challenges. The regime’s allied countries (Iran and Russia) also use it in marketing the regime and their relationship with it, although these allies know that they are deceitful messages that do not represent the bleak reality of Syria as the regime continues in power and these countries continue to support it.


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