Even the hitherto staunch support of Syria’s allies is looking shaky. Russia and China united to block any possibility of sanctions against Syria in the UN Security Council. But in the same week, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev told Assad that he must either reform or step down. The formerly friendly Turkish government has also turned against the regime.
And in the midst of all this, the regime decides, of all things, to target a popular leader from a powerful community which has so far for its own reasons preferred to largely keep out of the fray. Why?
In answering this question, it is important to note that the regime denies responsibility for the murder of Mashaal Tammo. The government propaganda channel SANA reported that members of a mysterious “armed terrorist group” were responsible for the killing. Such crude propaganda seems curiously anachronistic. It is as though whoever constructed it neither expected nor particularly wanted to be believed. This impression is correct. It offers a clue as to the modus operandi of the Syrian regime.
Media accounts of the “Arab Spring” repeatedly claimed that the old methods of political repression could no longer be employed. In the new world of satellite communications, the internet, and so on, the naked violence and openly absurd propaganda of the old dictatorships would prove brittle and useless.
The Syrian regime has set out to try and disprove these claims. With a fervor worthy of a better cause, the Assad regime is trying to prove that there is life and efficacy in the old methods yet — that savage repression and killing, even apparently against the regime’s own immediate interests, will succeed. It will succeed, the regime believes, because in the end, if the sufficient measure of force is applied, the result will be a terrorized, cowed population. This has certainly worked before — notably in 1982, when the regime murdered around 20,000 people in the city of Hama, and put an end to a rising against Assad’s father, Hafez.
The regime of Bashar Assad in Syria is officially committed to Islam. The Syrian constitution requires that the state president be a Muslim. In reality, however, the only higher power that the Assad family bows down to, in whose capacity for deliverance it continues to firmly believe, is violence itself. The invocation and application of this power is its very raison d’etre. Mashaal Tammo was the latest victim to be sacrificed to its creed. The Assad regime will continue to make further sacrifices before this altar, until either its faith is confirmed by renewed quiescence, or it ceases to exist.