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My Fickle Friends by Bashar al-Assad

How fickle friendship can be. After all the years of close co-operation, the dinners out together, the help we provided, and the dirty work we did for them, it’s come to this.

Bashar al-Assad and his wife lunching at the Elysée palace, 2010

Bashar al-Assad and his wife lunching at the Elysée palace, 2010

Yesterday I was a reformist; today I’m a war criminal. Mubarak, Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Saleh, I feel your pain.

They say they may send me to The Hague—which may mean I spend the rest of my natural life…in court! But I’ve heard at least the food and accommodation is good there.

Last year we were wined and dined in France, this year the French embassy has been closed. It was only a year or so ago when I was invited by our close friends, Nicolas and Carla, to the fabulous Elysee Palace. No expense was spared for us; they even held an official ceremony followed by a dinner banquet. It was only right—after all we had hosted them in our own fiefdom a couple of years before. All the talk about our deep historic friendship seems so distant. I only hope that once I have dealt with my small local problem I can be invited back again.

As for that William Hague—I’m sure he still believes I am a reformer at heart—he kept saying so even while the death toll reached the hundreds. In any case why complain about me when British companies are still selling weapons to the Khalifa family as well? Just because Bahrain has Saudi as a close friend instead of Iran, it doesn’t seem like a fair reason. And now they are again trying to cosy up to Karimov as well, just because all his opposition is either dead or in prison.

And the media too—just the other day our pictures were splashed across Vogue, and my wife was one of the leading lights in the liberal press, smooching around with Hollywood stars. (Their only complaint was that our ba’athist regime wasn’t secular enough!) Now, she is denigrated along with Suzanne (Mubarak) and Laila (Bin Ali). At least (Queen) Rania called us the other day to check up on how we are doing—strange how she is not yet criticised by anyone despite being the wife of an absolute monarch. And all those academics—I remember how they accepted Middle East money for their institutes and chairs. How many of them called me a reformer, and where are they now?

I still don’t know why they have turned against me—and not just the British and French, but the Americans too. All the reports about us torturing those rebels being used against us—but not so long ago our torture expertise was what enamoured us to our Western friends. After all, we helped them in their “war on terror”—they even sent us people to torture on their behalf, including Canadians! Even the American’s reminisce over the “cosy” relationship our intelligence services shared. Our work was more secretive than that of Mubarak, and more sought after than that of Gaddafi who would receive Libyan’s delivered by the CIA to torture. But us—as long our friends needed it done we were happy to do it, whatever their nationality. I truly feel that our USP should have bought us more credit than we seem be getting now.

Now they are complaining about the ‘cleaning’ we have done in Homs. They didn’t complain much when my father killed tens of thousands in Hama (which their diplomats helpfully relayed as just 1000 dead)—what makes this any different? And in any case, I at least only kill the people on my own soil, unlike my fair weather friends who happily kill civilians from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula to Asia, all by remote control! (Note to self—remember when this is over to check when they will sell us those clever drones too?)

I know I have embarrassed my friends by not being able to stamp out the cockroaches as quickly as we would have liked, despite being given cover by the Arab League for a while (though Kofi coming ought to give me a bit more time). I realise I must be making them feel a bit awkward, with all the babies, women and children being maimed, tortured and killed in front of (and sometimes as well as) Western journalists. My hope is that even though they keep wringing their hands about me in public—secretly they seem happy enough to let me get on with it. They are even more relieved that our Russian and Chinese friends vetoed them at the UN, saving them the embarrassment of having to talk about doing nothing. They won’t help the opposition as long as they can’t guarantee control over it, and I may just have enough goodwill stored up for the many years my father and I have kept the Golan Heights quiet.

Just like Hillary said—they can’t allow the opposition to be armed—since they might be terrorists (unlike all of us civilized members of the international community).

Maybe not all my friends are as fickle as I thought?

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About the Author

Dr. Reza Pankhurst

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Reza Pankhurst is a political scientist and historian, specializing in the Middle East and Islamic movements. He has a doctorate from the London School of Economics, where he previously completed his Masters degree in the History of International Relations. He was imprisoned by the Mubarak regime in Egypt between 2002 and 2006 due to his membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, during which time he was adopted as a political prisoner by Amnesty International. His latest book, The Inevitable Caliphate? A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present, is published by Hurst and available now. 
  • Edward

    What has happened in Syria has one thing in common with the weather. Weather forcasting has become remarkably reliable in recent times. So I don’t think Assad was too surprised when the psychos came knocking at his door even putting their calling-card (videos of murdered policemen being dumped into the river) into his letter-box.
    And it seems with their desire for democracy in Russian elections the Russians are also preparing for them to knock on their door.