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David W. Lesch
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came to power upon his father's death in 2000, many in- and outside Syria held high hopes that the popular young doctor would bring long-awaited reform, that he would be a new kind of Middle East leader capable of guiding his country toward genuine democracy. David Lesch was one of those who saw this promise in Assad. A widely respected Middle East scholar and consultant, Lesch came to know the president better than anyone in the West, in part through a remarkable series of meetings with Assad between 2004 and 2009. Yet for Lesch, like millions of others, Assad was destined to disappoint. In this timely book, the author explores Assad's failed leadership, his transformation from bearer of hope to reactionary tyrant, and his regime's violent response to the uprising of his people in the wake of the Arab Spring.

    Lesch charts Assad's turn toward repression and the inexorable steps toward the violence of 2011 and 2012. The book recounts the causes of the Syrian uprising, the regime's tactics to remain in power, the responses of other nations to the bloodshed, and the determined efforts of regime opponents. In a thoughtful conclusion, the author suggests scenarios that could unfold in Syria's uncertain future.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18916-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vi-ix)
  4. Map
    (pp. x-x)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Hope
    (pp. 1-19)

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Or perhaps it was inevitable …

    For three decades, from the time an intra-Baath party coup brought him to power in 1970 until his death in June 2000, President Hafiz al-Assad was the ruler of Syria. By the early 1990s, though, his health was failing, and it was widely accepted that his eldest son, Basil, was being groomed for the top job – even though Syria is officially a republic, not a monarchy. Basil was viewed in Syria as a charismatic military figure who would seamlessly assume the presidency when the day came....

  6. CHAPTER 2 Surviving
    (pp. 20-37)

    By early 2005, it seemed that Bashar al-Assad had made it through the worst that the US invasion of neighboring Iraq had to offer. But regional and international pressure would increase exponentially over the next few months. It is important to go over in some detail what happened to Syria (and to Bashar) at this time, because it sheds light on the regime’s actions, its determination to hold on to power, and the leadership’s belief that it would emerge victorious when confronted by an even more lethal threat in 2011.

    On 14 February 2005, Rafiq Hariri, the billionaire businessman and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Syria is Different
    (pp. 38-54)

    In late 2010 and early 2011, Syria seemed a fairly stable place, especially compared to Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where events were beginning to bubble. Bashar al-Assad had improved his own and his country’s image; earlier in the decade, and particularly in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination, that image had been tarnished. In Paris in December 2010, the Syrian president and his wife were described as cosmopolitan visitors and were widely photographed in their haute couture clothes, visiting trendy museums and being hosted (if not feted) by the French elite.

    Even the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), established under...

  8. CHAPTER 4 No, It’s Not
    (pp. 55-68)

    Deraa is a city of some 70,000–100,000 people near the border with Jordan, in southwestern Syria. It is the capital of the Deraa Governorate, located about sixty miles due south of Damascus, on the road that leads to Amman, the Jordanian capital. This part of Syria, as with most of its rural areas, is agrarian based. As such, its economy has suffered disproportionately, due to a long drought in what is already an arid region.

    It is here that the Syrian uprising effectively began.

    During the first week of March, at a school in Deraa, ten children aged between...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Regime Responds
    (pp. 69-86)

    Deraa was not the only Syrian city in which protests erupted in the latter half of March 2011. There were also protests about the same time in Banias, a fairly conservative, Sunni-dominated city on the Mediterranean coast. The demonstrators were protesting against the regime’s anti-Islamic decrees of recent years, particularly a ban in the summer of 2010 on female schoolteachers wearing theniqab, the veil worn by the more observant and traditional women in Syria. Protests popped up in a number of others cities around the country as well, notably in Homs, Kurdish-dominated Qamishli, al-Hasaka, Hama and Latakia, as well...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Opposition Mounts
    (pp. 87-121)

    The protests and demonstrations that began in Syria in spring 2011 were not the first manifestations of opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In hindsight, the ‘Damascus Spring’ of 2000 may have opened the door for civil society (or democracy) activists in Syria: during and after it, they established important personal and organizational connections. It also encouraged a boldness that hitherto had been virtually nonexistent, and – perhaps most important – led to heightened expectations. When these were subsequently dashed, a greater level of frustration built up over time.

    In September 2000, in the midst of the Damascus Spring,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The International Response
    (pp. 122-163)

    The international reaction to the uprising in Syria and the Syrian government’s policies in response evolved as the situation itself evolved. The initial reaction from practically every international actor who had a ‘dog in this fight’, so to speak, was guarded and muted. It was almost as if everyone hoped the burgeoning crisis in Syria would just fizzle out and go away, so that there would be no need to make any difficult decisions regarding the proper response. Unfortunately, the uprising did not just go away, and the major regional and international players in the unfolding drama did indeed have...

  12. CHAPTER 8 All In
    (pp. 164-205)

    In retrospect, August 2011 seems to have been a turning point. Ramadan had revealed not only the tenaciousness of the opposition, but also the increasing lengths to which the regime would go to stay in power. Additionally, the international community was beginning to give up any faint hope it might have had regarding Bashar al-Assad’s ability or willingness to implement substantive (rather than cosmetic) political reform in Syria and to enter into a serious national dialogue with the opposition. When, on 18 August, President Obama called on Assad to step aside, and when the European Union countries quickly followed suit,...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Whither Syria?
    (pp. 206-241)

    Putrid piles of garbage lie on streets because basic services have ceased operating. Running water and electricity are either unavailable – by design, as a form of collective punishment, or as a result of disruption – or else are available only sporadically. Storefronts are shuttered, battered and broken. The stores themselves are empty of both people and products, as either the retailers have deliberately removed the stock, storing it for a safer day, or else – more likely – the goods have been pilfered by vandals on one or either side of the conflict. The walls of buildings are pockmarked...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 242-263)
  15. Index
    (pp. 264-276)