Dialogue can resolve Syrian imbroglio
Tyrannical policies turn people away from the ruling powers and frustration boils over until it finally explodes
By Mustafa Al Zarooni
Published: Mon 28 Aug 2017, 3:17 PM
Last updated: Mon 28 Aug 2017, 5:21 PM
Seventeen years ago Ali Farzat, a political cartoonist, criticised the authority, the totalitarian regime in Syria under president Hafez Al Assad through his works. Farzat's drawings, noted for their scathing condemnation, criticised corruption within the government, bureaucracy and the elite. But memories fade fast, especially so when they are unpleasant.
Bashar Al Assad, Al Assad's son who took over in Syria by mid 2000 showed keen interest in the cartoonist and his cartoons. He visited Farzat's art galleries, supported him, and urged him to publish the works in the media. The relationship developed further with Bashar encouraging Farzat to start a newspaper. Al Domri, (The Lamplighter), thus became the first independent periodical in Syria since the Baath Party came to power in 1963. The satirical newspaper gained popularity instantly, and Farzat even quoted Bashar Al Assad as saying that "backwardness preceded our media by two hundred years".
As soon as he took office, Bashar rolled out a reform programme, the Damascus Spring, and the period saw advancement and intense political and social debate in Syria. Bashar Al Assad was the man behind this term in this millennium and under a government auspices.
However, activisim was on a roller coaster and security crackdowns commenced within a year with Assad being influenced by the "old guard", members of the government loyal to his late father. The forces around him predominantly controlled his thoughts and mindset, as well as inculcated fear in him especially after 9/11 and the American trend of supporting Arab democracies. Bashar soon changed his approach and went back to his father's totalitarian policy. But no longer than 10 years after the repressive policy was implemented, the Syrian Spring broke out, with demands for ouster of Bashar being the most heard. Times had changed dramatically, and Bashar turned from hero to criminal.
From time immemorial, countries have missed the chance to surge ahead or to progress. Reform policies and development plans are shelved mainly due to fears of uncertainity, lack of confidence, failure to stand by beliefs and because power is invariably in the hands of an opportunist, utilitarian and ego centrist group, which often follows repressive policies. All this happens despite the warning they receive from intellectuals who are, often, far from the decision-makers. The tyrannical policies turn people away from the ruling powers and frustration boils over until it finally explodes. It is this tendency of the people in authority to turn a blind eye to the warnings they receive that often leads to disaster as in the case of war-torn Syria.
So, where is Bashar's friend Farzat, whose cartoons served as a release and catharsis for the people? Through his caricatures he had gained the respect of Arabs while at the same time drawing the fury of governments.
The cartoons would have to a certain extend helped prevent frustration and revolt and would have served as a warning to Bashar on the wrong path he was taking.
Instead, the newspaper's licence was withdrawn within three years, and Farzat, who was once held in high acclaim was beaten up and left with a broken arm and fingers.
Today, Syria is looking at re-positioning itself even as the complexities of the civil war continue. But, wouldn't dialogue be a better way out than the use of force?