Friday, June 7, 2013

Nadim Shehadi on Dictators, Revolution and Civil War

The conflict in Syria is difficult even for the experts to grasp.  When I'm looking for guidance I often turn to commentary by Nadim Shehadi, a Lebanese-born expert at Chatham House.

Michael Totten recently interviewed him for World Affairs, where the man from Shehadi outlined a Machiavellian tactic of the Assad regime for maintaining control of Syria.  Shehadi playfully offered his explanation in terms of advice for an aspiring dictator:
“What you should do,” he said, “is establish the idea that you're indispensable, that you’re irreplaceable, that beyond you is the abyss of sectarian civil war, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and the breakup of the state. Create problems that only you can resolve. That's the mind game Bashar al-Assad is playing with you. As long as you can't see beyond him, he's safe.”
This has indeed been the essential psychological tactic for the Assad family for the last 43 years.

In practice, internal control is maintained via power over networks and civil groups.  Here from an essay by Shehadi himself:
The regime’s network cuts across sect, class, ethnicity, region and ideology; even the clerical establishment is split along these lines. The regime even has its own Islamists, its own tame opposition and a history of manipulating jihadi and salafi groups and infiltrating them in Iraq and Lebanon. Throughout over forty years of its rule, the regime and its security establishment has penetrated every organization and community and nurtured within them a number of individuals who gained power through their association with the Baath party and the intelligence services. These become the power brokers and act as intermediaries with the state apparatus.

They can get people in and out of jail as well as get them jobs or get them fired, facilitate businesses or close them down, and they maintain control through an atmosphere of fear and mafia-style extortion and blackmail. Very often such individuals rise at the expense of the more traditional leadership and can hold the whole community to ransom.  
In the same essay, he poses another essential question: Is the conflict in Syria a revolution or a civil war?

Read the whole essay by Nadim Shehadi HERE.

Read Michael Totten's discussion with Shehadi HERE.

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