Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Al-Assad regime launches new western media strategy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Over the past few days, the al-Assad regime has begun to employ a new strategy to defend itself and express its viewpoints to the outside world, despite the Syrian security forces continuing its policy of suppression and violence against the Syrian people. This new strategy can be seen in a new openness to western media outlets, whose presence in the country has been banned since the outbreak of the revolution in March.

Over the past months, the official Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA] and Syrian state television have been practically the only media outlets through which the Damascus regime has communicated with the Syrian public and the outside world. With the al-Assad regime coming under increased international pressure, and the possibility of a UN Security Council resolution being passed imposing sanctions on Syria – in addition to the bilateral sanctions that have been imposed against the al-Assad regime by a number of western states –Damascus has begun to employ a new strategy in its communications with the West. In just one week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has conducted two interviews with the western media; namely with the British “Sunday Telegraph” newspaper, and with Russia’s state “Channel One”. Whilst Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Saaban was also interviewed by Britain’s “Independent” newspaper, and Damascus also allowed “Washington Post” correspondent Liz Sly to accompany Syrian security officers on a tour of Damascus.

As part of this media campaign, the Syrian officials have tried to promote the idea that the Middle East will collapse should the al-Assad regime be ousted from power. In an interview with the British Sunday Telegraph, al-Assad said that the western powers risk causing an “earthquake” across the Middle East if they intervene in Syria. The Syrian president said that Syria is “the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake” adding that “any problem in Syria will burn the whole region.” Al-Assad acknowledged that western countries “are going to ratchet up the pressure” but stressed that “Syria is different in every respect from Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen. The history is different. The politics is different” adding that “if the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region.”

Whilst the Syrian president told Russia’s Channel One that the “Libyan scenario” is unlikely to be repeated in Syria because “Syria is not Libya, it is a different country from the geographical, demographic, and political points of view” adding that “such a scenario is virtually unfeasible in Syria.” During this interview, al-Assad also thanked Moscow for protecting Syria from international sanctions, adding that Damascus is counting on Moscow’s continued support.

In the same context, Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban’s told the Independent that “the security situation in Homs is terrible…[and] the army is being attacked all over the country.” She also stressed that violence “is being directed at our public buildings and cities. This has nothing to do with peaceful demonstrations. This violence is the most dangerous thing happening now in Syria. Syrians all want to live in peace, to press ahead with pluralism and reforms. This violence is not the introduction to democracy.”

Shaaban added that “there is obviously a sector which is interested in conflict and not in reforms. They are all given money to shoot at demonstrators and the security forces – or they are extremist fundamentalists.”

For his part, Ali Sadreddin Al-Bayanouni, a senior member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, commenting on al-Assad’s appearance in the western media, described his comments as being “empty threats” and compared these to the threats that were previously made by Colonel Gaddafi.

The former leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood said that “the [Syrian] regime has reached a weak state similar to that is seen just before the comprehensive collapse of the state’s institutions.” He added that “the transformation of the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmed Bader Hassoun, [from a religious figure] into a man of politics threatening suicide bombers [attacking US and Europe if Syria is attacked] reveals the extent of the weakness of the [Syrian] state.”

He also stressed that the international community is obliged to protect Syrian citizens by any means possible, adding that although the West has condemned the brutal suppression being practiced by the al-Assad regime against the Syrian citizens, this is “not in line with the crimes that are being committed in Syrian cities every day.” Al-Bayanouni stressed that “the Syrian regime has not changed its methods since the Hama massacre of 1982 until today; for it is still trying to incite the Syrian people and demonstrations to incite a sectarian civil war, but – God willing – it will not succeed in this.”

For his part, Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the al-Assad regime is well aware, from the Libyan experience, that the west is in a strong position with regards to transforming Syria into a democratic society.” He also expressed his personal opinion that “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is the most influential Arab leader in the Syrian street, more than any other Arab leaders, for he enjoys the love and appreciation from sections of the Syrian street, whilst also having influence with the ruling regime in Damascus.”

As for al-Assad threatening the west against interfering in Syria to protect the unarmed Syrian citizens, Abdul Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there are many areas of Syria that –at night – are not under control of the Syrian regime, but which rather are being controlled by the people, and this extends Iskenderun to Daraa, with the exception of Damascus.” He added that “as for the countryside around Damascus and Homs, and Hama; these are also outside of the control of the regime at night.”

The director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights asked “if the ruling regime has no control over parts of the country at night, how will it create problems in other countries? Unless, of course, it intends to resort to Iran and Hezbollah to create problems for other countries.”