Overcoming Assad′s dark legacy | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 24.07.2012
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World

Overcoming Assad's dark legacy

It seems the days of Assad's government are numbered. Though it remains uncertain what will follow it, the legacy of the dictatorship will carry a heavy burden, and continued violence seems probable.

A man writes names on fresh graves of people whom activists say were killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, after their funeral at the Qusseer neighbourhood of Homs July 19, 2012. Picture taken July 19, 2012. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

Krieg in Syrien

Once a war has reached the capital city, a regime must start to fear the worst. Saddam Hussain found that out in 2003, when he was forced from power soon after US soldiers marched into Baghdad. And Moammar Gadhafi had to flee Tripoli when the Libyan rebels broke into his capital.

Now Free Syrian Army fighters have entered Damascus. Leading members of the government regime were killed in a bomb attack. If it hadn't before, President Bashar Assad's regime must be feeling seriously threatened. If it is not already inevitable, his fall from power can no longer ruled out.

A fire burns after a shelling at Tafes near Deraa July 22, 2012.

The war in Syria may be moving into its final phase

Thirst for revenge

But it remains uncertain whether a rebel victory would bring better times, for Syria will have to struggle with the legacy of the regime. Assad and his father have been in power for over 40 years. They both described themselves as secular, but that did not stop them filling key political, military, and economic positions with Alevi Muslims - the same Shiite minority that they belong to.

It's true that some members of the government came from the Sunni or Christian elites, but the center of power stayed firmly in Alevi hands. And the brutality with which they defended this position is likely to have woken a thirst for revenge among the regime's many enemies. Should the Assad regime fall, it is likely that there will be a few nights of bloody reprisals.

Margret Johannsen, political scientist at the University of Hamburg's Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH), says it is very likely that the violence will continue if and when Assad falls. She points out that the country is split along many ethnic and religious lines - a circumstance that will not be changed a successful coup.

Daoud Rajha is sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Assad has appointed fellow Alevis to key positions

Government of national unity

If the Assad regime does fall, it would be crunch time for the two major opposition groups - the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Committee (NCC). These two blocs claim that together they control over 90 percent of Assad's opponents, and both have declared they will represent all of them, regardless of ethnic or religious background, if they get to form a new government.

An SNC spokesman - who wishes to remain anonymous - said the council intends to set up a government of national unity. He added that since administrative and government experience would be essential, the SNC would work together with representatives from the old regime - as long as they are not suspected of any crimes.

"We will not make the same mistake as in Iraq, namely allowing society to fracture again," the spokesman added. "We will avoid that mistake. If we keep to this plan, we will be sure of setting up a new government."

Assad legacy intact

But bringing the population to put their trust in a national unity government is such an immense task that it would require no less than a cultural revolution. After all, the Assad dynasty also enjoyed invoking Syrian unity, but then continually trampled on it. Most Syrians have become used to putting their faith not in the state, but in their own ethnic or religious group. Irrespective of what form the coming regime will take, overcoming Assad's political and cultural legacy will be no easy task.

Free Syrian Army members tear a banner with picture of Syria's President Bashar Al Assad

Violence may continue in Syria even after Assad's fall

It's questionable whether it's even possible, says Johannsen. "Of course, in the long-term, any new constitution or institutions must succeed within an overarching Syrian identity," she said. "But I fear that it will be impossible to avoid making concessions to the fragmentation of the country in the make-up of the state organs - which means the divisions will become institutionalized."

Reconciliation requires discipline

In any case, if the Assad regime does fall, Syria will face a host of more pressing problems - in particular, preventing violence between individual groups. Other examples have shown that this is possible, but it requires a round table at which every section of the population is represented, without exception - including representatives of the old regime.

But that will require plenty of self-discipline from the players, argues Johannsen. "Achieving such a balance of power is demanding," she says. "It means putting aside revenge and reprisals for previous wrongs."

Of course, there are successful precedents. But in Syria this process could take some time. "But on the other hand, there is really no other option," adds Johannsen.

There is currently a clear front running through Syria, dividing the country between the supporters and opponents of Assad. But if Assad were to fall or resign, his opponents will still have to prove that they can overcome the divisions in the country that the Assad dynasty has thrived on for over 40 years.

Author: Kersten Knipp / bk
Editor: Rob Mudge

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