Book review - Assad's Survival: The Symbol of Resisting the Arab Spring

Ahram Online , Saturday 5 Jan 2019

The authors conclude that at present there is just one clear winner from the uprising and civil war: Al-Assad himself

book cover
Assad's survival: The Symbol of Resisting the Arab Spring" book cover

Assad's Survival: The Symbol of Resisting the Arab Spring, by Ashraf Allam & Salah Saber (Cairo: Lamar Publishing), 2019.144pp.

After nearly eight years of calls for the Syrian president to leave office, the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has admitted for the first time that Russian support for the Syrian regime means Bashar Al-Assad will remain in power.

In December Donald Trump announced that the remaining 2,000 US troops in Syria would imminently withdraw, leaving Al-Assad in power and a large Iranian military presence intact within Syria.

Many Arab states have also accepted that Assad has survived the nearly eight-year civil war and are preparing to reopen embassies in Damascus.

But does Bashar, the monster that once needed decapitating, going to stay just because of the support that he’s had from Russia?

Al-Assad's continued grip on power was underlined by another fact declared by Trump who said this month that Iran could “do what they want there [Syria], frankly.” Trump dismissed the continuing value of Syria to the US, saying: “We are talking about sand and death. We are not talking about vast wealth.”

In this book, authors Ashraf Allam and Salah Saber list other reasons for Al-Assad’s survival.

The main question of the book is: what are the factors that allowed the regime of Bashar Al-Assad to survive the civil war?

To answer this question, the study has examined both the domestic structure of the regime and the regional and international context. The study has concluded that a number of local and regional factors have enabled him to hang on to power.

At the local level, Al-Assad continues to rely on the support of key communal and interest groups. The majority of the Alawite sect continues to support him. The security forces and the army are cases in point.

The Al-Assad family has stayed in power due, in part, to the solidarity among family members, and especially by putting some of them in the positions of authority.

The local opposition forces were deeply divided and haven't showed true unity of purpose, command and control.

The variation in religious creeds and ethnic groups within Syrian society has caused fragmentation that negatively affected the Syrian uprising.

The issue of foreign intervention is also impacted by the Sunni-Shia struggle.

On the other hand, the uprising made a mistake: it didn't give minorities the opportunity to join it and thus made them align with the regime.

Book Cover
Book Cover

Al-Assad has also successfully constructed a “selectorate” group from his choice of high-ranking officials. He has carefully chosen most of them from the elite circle of his family, sect and Shia supporters.

The hierarchical system of the government has also been crucial to the persistence of Syria’s regime, with Al-Assad’s personality and temperament reflected in the actions of the Syrian regime.

At the regional level, the Al-Assad regime benefits from divisions and uncertainty about the way forward on Syria.

The Gulf States (with a majority Sunni population) have grown increasingly critical of Al-Assad’s crackdown on his mainly Sunni political opponents. But other members of the Arab League, however, have been far more reticent about the prospects of continued and open-ended pressure on Syria.

At present, all the main threats to the Syrian regime have been warded off.

Yet despite wishful thinking, the conflict in Syria is not over yet. One third of Syria is still outside of the regime’s control.

The two hypotheses of the study have been proven true. The regime has developed an expertise for dealing with internal and international pressures which allowed it to deal with the pressures of the civil war.

The regional and international context was in a state of fragmentation and lack of resolve from the US administration that allowed the crisis to drag on with no settlement in sight for more than seven years.

Alliances and rivalries overlap, with just one clear winner: Al-Assad.

Author Ashraf Sallam (Left) and Salah Saber (Right)

Short link: