Assad’s threats

Guest post by DaveM

Gangsters target business by using protection rackets. They never actually threaten the businesses directly but instead allude to a serious danger which they, and they alone, can prevent.

It’s known as extortion and is exactly how the Assad regime deals with Lebanon.

With the tribunal on the assassination of Rafiq Hariri underway, Syrian President Bashar Assad is already making thinly veiled warnings against it becoming “politicized”, whatever that means. He offers no definition nor is he asked to give one.

“In answering the question if he was anxious of the possibility of the Haririi court case becoming politicized, Assad stated that: ‘You cannot guarantee that this tribunal will not be politicized. After all, we see that nothing in this world is truly objective. If the UN and the Security Council cannot carry out their own duties then can we really expect that the smaller institutions, which emanate from them, can operate independently?

“‘There aren’t any guarantees here of that here. So, if this trial were to become politicised then Lebanon would be the first to pay the price. The court is there for Lebanon’s sake and I hope that it won’t become politicized, however there are no guarantees in place to prevent this from happening.’

“Assad also stated in an interview with Emeriti newspaper Khaleej that: ‘The forthcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections will be decisive but we cannot take them in isolation. For if the elections are decisive then the events of 7th May 2008 along with other events are also decisive.’

“Assad deemed that mutual agreement is what keeps Lebanon together and it is the absence of this, not elections, which would cause Lebanon to explode.

“‘Elections will neither bring stability nor instability. However mutual agreement and harmony will and any absence of this will destroy Lebanon’s stability.’

“The decisiveness of these elections, according to Assad, will be defined this way: Will the winning side take Lebanon towards harmony and agreement, or will they take Lebanon down the other road?

“‘So if you reach agreement, as in agreement on everything, then I think that this will create stability in Lebanon.

“‘However if there is a force which wants to remove this harmony under the banner of ‘I’m the winner’ – regardless of who it is or what side they’re from – there will only be one result and that will be the destruction and destabilization of Lebanon, not the stability it enjoys post Doha Agreement.’”

The Lebanese newspaper Daily Star covers this in detail, defining what “politicizing” means.

Using killing as a policy tool yet at the same time presenting yourself as the only force able to prevent instability is how most dictatorships, especially Ba’athism, operate. I remember apartheid South Africa using this, Burma too, and of course China trotted out something similar after the Tiananmen massacre.

Assad’s threats are nothing new, he’s been making them for many years.

In February 2005, a few days after the murder of Rafiq Hariri, Gebran Tueini, then editor of newspaper An Nahar, appeared on LBC’s programme Kalem En Nass and spoke out against this intimidation and blackmail.

“Today’s discussion isn’t about Lebanese internal differences. Today’s discussion isn’t about differences in opinion regarding the jurisdiction of the prime minister or president of the republic etc.

“Though we definitely want a wider role for the centralized administration and its institutions [elected bodies as opposed to ones imposed by Syria], the problem today is this – is Lebanon able to recover its health and sovereignty, independence and freedom [from Syrian occupation]? Or not?

“Are we able to move on from being a country subject to a foreign custodianship to becoming an independent state that can make its own decisions as it wishes? Or not?

“Therefore this discussion wants to take place here and focus on the withdrawal of the occupying country from Lebanon and the formation of an independent, sovereign and free country.

“This at the very least has to take place, in this specific way in order to get to that point.

“Unity of Lebanon’s people is essential. Despite all this hearsay which says the Lebanese people are divided amongst themselves, and the Lebanese people, if the Syrian forces withdrew, would slaughter each other.

“All these lies exist in order to justify the existence and continuation of Syrian troops in Lebanon and to justify it remaining a state created by Syria and its custodianship [i.e. a colony].

“All of these lies are imposed by restraint and by force, including Syrian threats, and were used to extend [Syrian loyalist] President Emile Lahoud’s term in office.

“The unity of the people decisively ends all of this – in front of all of this hearsay which is still trying to say that there will be splits and divisions within the Lebanon’s people and citizens [if Syria pulls its troops out].

“The unity of the people will reach and convince the international community and say there is reconciliation among the people and we will take responsibility for ourselves.

“Unity of the people justifies to the Lebanese people, that after all this bloodshed from 1975 till now which has been exploited by others and used as a tool. But from now on this will no longer be used in order to drag Lebanon back into a being a place in which others – Syria and Israel, Syria and America, Palestinians and Arabs– use to settle their accounts.

“Unity of the Lebanese people says to them, enough of this talk.
Leave us alone. We’re perfectly able to reach agreement among ourselves.

“Now I’m not saying that there aren’t differences among us, or that we all have just the one view such as something from a totalitarian state like Syria where all the polls read 99 percent.

“We are now saying, yes to democracy, yes to pluralism. You can call it sectarian pluralism or you can call it political pluralism. This pluralism, at the end of the day, is able to be used to express your view so long as it takes place within a democratic framework.

“We want Lebanon once again to become a true democracy built on discussion and free and fair elections far from any foreign interference and internal pressure.”

He went on to say:

“We’re not saying that we want to forcefully disarm Hezbollah but we’re saying is to convince Hezbollah that their role as an armed resistance is over.

“There is a political decision which we have chosen – an independent state and also the time has come to disarm the militias. The time has come for the Palestinians to disarm too. There is no longer a role for them in the camps to free Palestine. Palestine itself now has a legitimate authority. We know the way things should be. United we’ll do this.”

He’s no longer the editor of An Nahar because on 12th December 2005 he was murdered by a car bomb.

Rafiq Hariri’s murder wasn’t just some anomaly, despite the impression you may get from certain newspaper articles.

It was part of series of assassinations targeting those who spoke out against Syrian occupation and oppression.

As the trial proceeds I expect Assad to resort to more threats and intimidation. He is, after all, a dictator. That’s what they do.

He may be a very charming individual, have a beautiful wife, and say all the right things in English. However it’s essential not to lose sight of who he really is, the nature of the regime he heads, and ultimately what he and it are capable of.

This is something every Syrian and Lebanese knows only too well.