Thursday, 14 February 2008

Learning a little more about Syria

My wise Syrian friend made me laugh as we picked over some (surprisingly cold) lentil kibbeh. He couldn't get his head around wanting to find the best Bashar al-Assad, Ba'athist and Pan-Arabist kitsch (posters, keyrings, flags, silhouette car stickers). The sticker shop next door to the Young Pioneers shop just off Hamidiya Souq has stickers and posters, but there's nothing spectacularly kitsch.

I had always assumed the crackdown on the Damascus Spring was a sign of al-Assad's early days, or weakness, in relation to more established members of the Syrian government. My friend set me straight on this. Bashar al-Assad had 6 years after Basel died to prepare himself for running Syria. He didn't come into control of the Syrian government in a weak position. He was in control and in power before he was President.

But why Bashar's recent obsession with all things Arabic? Why give speeches about the importance of Arabic, pass legislation to ensure children are given Arabic names, etc?

"Nasser," said my friend, "He's modeling himself on Nasser."