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The New Lion of Damascus

The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Asad and Modern Syria

David W. Lesch
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The New Lion of Damascus
    Book Description:

    Is Syria a rogue state? How important is it to the fates of Iraq, Iran, Israel, and Lebanon? Based on unique and extraordinary access to Syria's President Bashar al-Asad, his circle, and his family, this book tells Syria's inside story. David W. Lesch presents the essential account of this country and its enigmatic leader at a critical juncture in the history of the Middle East.

    Syria has been called the crossroads of civilization for millennia. Lately, however, it is a nation more in the crosshairs than the crossroads. From the U.S. perspective, Syria is on the wrong side of history with respect to Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, the global war on terrorism, and the growth of democracy in the Middle East. Bashar al-Asad assumed the presidency in 2000 after the long reign of his father, Hafiz al-Asad, and soon encountered momentous regional and international events. Bashar's efforts to integrate his country into this changing environment without being coerced have met with some success and some failure. The fate of Syria, very much tied to its young ophthalmologist-turned-president, will profoundly affect what type of Middle East emerges in the near future.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14359-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  5. Note on the Text
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. Chapter 1 Two Phone Calls
    (pp. 1-4)

    The thoroughfare connecting Damascus with its international airport some twenty miles outside the city is one of the easiest rides in the country, especially if one is traveling on it early in the morning to catch an a.m. flight out. It is a well-manicured, smooth four-lane highway with very little traffic at this time of the day. If you are in a hurry you can stay in the fast lane, and Syrian drivers potentially impeding your progress typically shift to the slow lane on a simple flicking of your lights or tapping of your horn. When exiting Damascus upon one...

  8. Chapter 2 The Asads of Syria
    (pp. 5-19)

    The family name Asad, meaning “lion” in Arabic, had in 1927 been given to Hafiz al-Asad’s father, Ali Sulayman, whose family name had been “Wahhish” (beast). According to Patrick Seale’s magnificent biography of Hafiz al-Asad, the commonly accepted story behind the change of name was that it reflected Ali’s having “so distinguished himself as a pillar of village society” in Qurdaha that the other leading families acclaimed him as a “lion” and no longer a “wahhish.”¹ Qurdaha was a traditionally poor and neglected Alawite village in the mountains marking off the coastal plain to the east of the port city...

  9. Chapter 3 Syria in the Middle East
    (pp. 20-56)

    The Golan (Jawlan in Arabic) Heights is one of the most hotly contested areas in the world; in this case, the claimants are Syria and Israel. Geologically the Golan is part of a plateau formed during the Holocene epoch, i.e. within the last ten thousand years. It is a volcanic field that extends to the east and northeast of the Syrian-Israeli border almost to Damascus—all in all some 1,750 square kilometers in southern Syria. The Golan Heights, or at least that which was captured by Israel in 1967, covers approximately 1,250 square kilometers, including Mount Hermon at its northernmost...

  10. Chapter 4 From Eye Doctor to Heir Apparent
    (pp. 57-80)

    Bashar cannot really say specifically why he chose the field of ophthalmology. It was just one of those things that appealed to him after he had tested the waters with a number of different subjects during his schooling. If it had been up to his father he probably would have become a cardiologist, but he liked the precision in ophthalmology, particularly in its surgical procedures. It is also fairly typical among the rich and powerful families in Syria (and elsewhere in the Arab world) for the second son to become a doctor while the eldest follows in his father’s footsteps....

  11. Chapter 5 Seasons in Damascus
    (pp. 81-97)

    On June 11, 2000, Bashar was unanimously nominated by the Baath party for president. There were no other nominees. The national assembly quickly amended article 83 of the Syrian constitution that stated that the president of the republic must be forty years old—it was changed to thirty-four years old, the exact age of Bashar. On June 24 he was elected as secretary-general of the Baath, in effect the head of the party, at the 9thRegional Congress meeting, the first such gathering of the Baath party to be held in fifteen years. It was already scheduled before Hafiz al-Asad’s...

  12. Chapter 6 The “Rogue State” and the United States
    (pp. 98-143)

    During the last decade scores of congresspersons, think tank and NGO representatives, and Middle East experts who have testified and commented before congressional committees assessing the regimes of Hafiz al-Asad and his son Bashar have, for the most part, concluded that Syria is, indeed, a so-called “rogue state.” It is argued that from the viewpoint of Washington, Syria supports terrorism, possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and generally deviates from the accepted norms of the international community. In the 1980s and 1990s terminology such as “rogue states,”“backlash states,”or “states of concern” became fashionable in U.S. foreign policy discourse to describe...

  13. Chapter 7 A “Strategic Choice” for Peace
    (pp. 144-175)

    Syria has been at the forefront of the Arab-Israeli conflict for over half a century. It has been at war with Israel ever since it hesitantly and quite incompetently entered the first Arab-Israeli conflagration that formally began upon Israel’s declaration of independence on May 15, 1948.¹ Armistice lines and demilitarized zones were agreed to by the combatants in the war at negotiations in 1949 on the island of Rhodes and brokered by UN representative Ralph Bunche, an American who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. The agreements, however, were not peace treaties nor did they consist of Arab...

  14. Chapter 8 Syria is Not Iraq
    (pp. 176-197)

    Syria and Iraq have had considerably less than amicable relations for most of the period since World War II. Both countries are products of the European mandate system, both play central roles in the development of Arab nationalism, and both claim a leadership position in the inter-Arab arena. It is little wonder, then, that the two developed more as rivals than as neighborly countries sharing a 400-mile (600-kilometer) border. Despite the centripetal forces of shared enmity against Israel, opposition to Western imperialism, the commonality of secular Baathist Arabism, and regional familiarity, the centrifugal forces of border and water-sharing disputes, Baathist...

  15. Chapter 9 “The raw material is the brain”
    (pp. 198-228)

    The covered suq in Aleppo is one of the great sites to visit in Syria. Across from the majestic Mamluk citadel perched at the center of town, the suq evokes memories of centuries gone by. The hawking by the workers in the stores, the smell of spices, fruits, nuts, and fresh vegetables permeate the narrow corridors. The antiques, both genuine and campy, are available to gaze upon and purchase after a heavy dose of bargaining, as are the everyday products of life that interest only the locals. One day in 1998, Bashar visited the covered suq. He was in Aleppo...

  16. Chapter 10 The Man
    (pp. 229-243)

    The Presidential Building in the Rowda district of Damascus, where Bashar spends most of his working hours, was purchased by the government in 1972.¹ It was his father’s main office and is located near his home in the Malki district. It is a very modest three-story building that looks more like his old home in the Seven Lakes area than the office of a president. The interior is nothing spectacular, even though it did receive a bit of a furniture facelift to replace the virtually rotting sofas, chairs, and tables that his father had. It has also been technologically updated...

  17. Appendix
    (pp. 244-245)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 246-273)
  19. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 274-276)
  20. Index
    (pp. 277-290)