x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Opposition miserably defeated by Assad regime in the ‘war of images’

What the Arabic press has to say about the Syrian election and the tactics of the Assad regime.

What the Arabic press has to say about Syria’s presidential election. Translated by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

Objective analyses of Syrian elections have been missing amid extremely polarised views among Syria’s warring parties and their respective allies abroad, remarked Areeb Al Rantawi in a comment article for the Jordanian newspaper Addustoor.

Opponents of the Assad regime have dismissed the Syrian vote as a sham. The Syrian government, on the other hand, has praised it to the skies, hailing it as a milestone event and a prelude to the second republic.

The picture became more blurred when it came to the turnout figures. The regime reported massive turnouts, with polling stations swamped with voters beyond expectations. But the opposition spoke about “fabricated images” and extremely low turnout in a vote held in an atmosphere of intimidation and threat.

As a result, we do not know for sure the number of eligible voters and where they are based – in regime-controlled areas or beyond, within or outside Syria.

Yet, a few remarks can be made about the Syrian vote. First, no one can claim that the elections were free and fair in the least, unless someone has a motive behind saying that or is an Assad loyalist. In fact, the regime was so interested in sending messages to the outside world through its “image” that it did not bother to apply international standards in the election.

Second, in the “war of images”, the Assad regime has done pretty well and the opposition has failed miserably. In a test of mobilising supporters, millions of Syrians headed to the polls, whereas the opposition failed in gathering even a small demonstration condemning the election or calling for a boycott. This is true even of opposition-controlled areas that comprise, according to the opposition, about 70 per cent of Syrian territory.

Third, in the carrot-and-stick battle, the Assad regime has had the upper hand. Ahmad Al Jarba, the president of the Syrian opposition coalition, urged the people to “stay at home”, while the armed opposition bombed Damascus, Aleppo and Latakiya to scare people away. Both tactics failed.

The regime, however, succeeded in utilising every means available to project the vote as a referendum on Syria.

Fourth, tens of thousands of voters were seen to their country’s embassy in Beirut. Electoral participation was also witnessed in other countries, with the number of votes clearly exceeding those cast by Egyptians abroad during their election.

Also, some Syrians from Kuwait and Europe flew to Damascus to cast their ballots. This, the writer said, suggested that many Syrians had come to the conclusion that Bashar Al Assad’s opponents were no better than him.

Writing in the London-based daily Al Hayat, Abdul Wahhab Badr Khan conversely argued that some of the Syrian voters were driven by sectarian motives, while others voted out of fear for retaliation. Some people were pursuing personal interests while there were those outside of Syria who cast their ballots to have their passports renewed.

He said that they voted because they did not want to lose everything. Voters in the recent election, like in dozens before, have learnt to leave their conscience behind to evade the regime’s brutality, especially as the world remains indifferent to their woes.

Hassan Haydar noted in Al Hayat that the re-election of President Al Assad for another seven-year term means two things: the end of a political settlement and Geneva one and two, and that the fight will continue for a long time with neither party capable of winning the war unless some external factors affect the balance.

Despite reports by the Syrian regime and Russia of a possible government that includes the “ internal opposition”, there are signs that this is now more unlikely than ever, with Mr Al Assad getting another term, which means a final rejection of a power handover, seen by the opposition and the international community as the basis for any political solution.

The London-based Al Quds Al Arabi said in an editorial that the cynicism of what the Syrian regime calls “presidential elections” is beyond description, dragging half the people to re-elect the president as he continues to drop barrel bombs, starve people and intimidate them.

President Al Assad is pursuing the legacy of his father, Hafez Al Assad, who assassinated, jailed and excluded even his associates. Hafez Al Assad indulged in brutality and sectarianism to stay in power until his death, but he never acquired legitimacy. But his son’s tyranny has surpassed his father’s, something Syrians never could imagine in their darkest dreams.