Where al-Assad went wrong: An opera buffa in 10 acts
As the Syrian death toll clicks up every day, the dictator in Damascus is making more foes than friends on a global scale. But where, really, did Bashar al-Assad make his existentialist mistake? He has behaved like a real dictator while he could have behaved like a dictator disguised as a shrewd politician.
Dictators kill; politicians do not. Dictators are not programmed to silence opponents by stealth; politicians are. Dictators opt for “direct oppression;” politicians opt for “smart oppression.” Dictators brutally intimidate; politicians use democratic means to intimidate.
Mr. al-Assad should not have ordered the killing of “terrorists.” Instead, Mr. al-Assad should have expected the “independent Syrian judges” to go after the terrorists; ah, the Syrian judiciary is totally independent and Mr. al-Assad is not in a position to intervene in any ongoing investigation. Sounds familiar? Here we go:
Act 1: Syrian police arrest dozens of people on charges of being members of a clandestine gang with the name of Nebuchadnezzar. Prosecutors claim that Nebuchadnezzar aimed to violently topple the democratic regime in Syria. Among the evidence seized at the suspects’ homes are cartoon film DVDs, PCs, mobile phones, cutlery, detergents, bulbs and pillows.
Act 2: The investigation deepens. In new waves of detentions thousands of Syrians believed to be members of the Nebuchadnezzar gang are now in jail waiting for the first court hearing. Prosecutors say the investigation is in progress and the draft indictment is already 365,000 pages long.
Act 3: There are now over 100,000 Nebuchadnezzar suspects in Syrian jails. Mr. al-Assad says he has no powers to intervene in the judiciary, but urges the judges to act quicker and to assure that the defendants’ rights are not violated.
Act 4: In the fifth year of the investigation Syria’s independent prosecutors discover new evidence. The indictment has now reached over 600,000 pages.
Act 5: There are more detentions and Mr. al-Assad’s government promises to construct new blocks of prisons to accommodate potential waves of arrests which will cleanse the Syrian regime off from undemocratic forces.
Act 6: The democratic-minded Syrians cheer for the investigation and are relieved that their evil compatriots would not be able to terrorize the country. They begin to view anyone skeptical of the investigation as yet another member of Nebuchadnezzar.
Act 7: Syrian prosecutors discover that Nebuchadnezzar’s leader is a 112-year-old farmer from Homs. Syrian police arrest the leader. The Syrian people are relieved. Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 elderly suspects have died during their pre-trial detention. The Syrians are happy. They view the prison deaths as “casualties necessary to step up democracy in Syria.”
Act 8: Yet some Syrians still protest the arrests and claim that the Nebuchadnezzar trial is a plot by the government to silence its opponents. The police arrest the protestors on charges that they too belong to the terrorist organization.
Act 9: The U.S. and some European governments say they are concerned about possible violation of defendants’ rights. But they also encourage the Syrian government to go ahead with the Nebuchadnezzar case to improve Syria’s democratic standards. The Syrian government admits some mistakes during the investigation but says it views the case as a golden opportunity to finish off terrorism in the country.
Act 10: There are no killings and no riots, since there is no one left to riot. Syrians are happy. Syria’s friends are happy. There aren’t any unhappy refugees in Turkey or Lebanon. The final verdict may come in about a few decades, but at least the terrorists are locked up in solitary cells. Western diplomats need not waste their time, energy and resources on the “Syrian crisis.” There is no Syrian crisis!