[Posted by Lara Keller 18/1/16]
The motivation in supporting a repressive government is usually fear. The bastards who get to the top want to scam the country on an industrial scale. This is the ultimate purpose of the mass murder, torture and starvation.
The Assad Regime is no exception to this rule. How people on the hard left can see Syria as some sort of persecuted socialist country is astonishing. The Syrian regime is as socialist and anti-imperialist as Harrods. A minority on the reactionary hard left need to stop trying to persuade others that the Syrian regime is opposed to the capitalist grand order, they should have “it is part of it” tattooed to their foreheads.
We are talking here about Syria before the uprising in 2011, clearly everything is even worse now. Syria was one of the most repressive police states in the Middle East, with little press freedom and the systematic use of torture across the labyrinthine “security” services. The “Damascus Spring” after Hafez’s son was handed the presidency in 2000, came to nothing as Bashar went back on earlier promises of reform. Syria continued to have the deserved reputation for rampant corruption allied to habitual government non transparency.
Bashar did nothing to reform the politics of the police state, but he did bring in neo-liberal reforms to the economy. This resulted in increases in poverty, as corruption concentrated the gains in the hands of the Assad Clique, and cuts in the subsidies for basic items and privatisation of state organisations concentrated the losses on the poorest.
In 2005 the UN Development Programme estimated that 30% of Syrians were living in poverty, with 11% unable to meet basic food needs. A later report in 2013 by the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) on the socioeconomic roots of the crisis, reported a 2009 household survey across Syria that estimated extreme poverty had risen to 18%. A report by the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated unemployment at 18%, particularly effecting the young. Overall a third of Syrians had either no employment or were under employed.
At the same time the Assad Family were estimated to have accumulated a massive business empire centred on Rami Makhluf that had controlling interests in 60% of the Syrian economy. It may not be a coincidence that Bashar married Asma Akhras in 2000, who had been an investment banker.
Before 2011 a snap shot of Syria would be a rural economy still recovering from a period of severe drought, at least 1.5 million refugees from Iraq, and a youthful population which had doubled since the 1980s. Rather than managing these crises, the repressive corrupt Assad regime in Damascus was dismantling the state run economy into their own pockets, forcing an increasing number of Syrians into poverty and hunger. Shanties towns were growing rapidly on the outskirts of Damascus, while in the centre expensive western shopping malls were being built to supply luxuries to the regime’s elite. It is thought that Bashar Assad has personally trousered 1.5 billion dollars from his time as president.
Then there is the whole business of official statistics in Syria. Under the 1963 emergency law, independent opinion polls were banned. A covert poll by Pepperdine University in 2010-11 found that 46% wanted to emigrate, 81% said the economic situation was bad or very bad, 83% said it had got worse in the last 5 years (ie 2005-10), 88% that the government could not solve the country’s problems, and 77% that the government was very or extremely corrupt. While 82% wanted the government to leave power, which explains the emergency law’s attitude to opinion polls!
Then there is the problem of the country’s official GDP. In 2009 according to the World Bank, the “official” GDP per capita in Syria was 42% that of Egypt’s GDP per capita. Comparison based on Parity Purchasing Power (PPP). Given the regime’s straggle hold on the so called “liberalised” economy, whatever that means, how much of the difference in official GDP is due to a large shadow economy, in which the elite siphon off the wealth of Syria?
Clearly if Assad regime gets the boot, then there will still be very tough times ahead as they are now. The Pepperdine poll saw people optimistic about the near future, which was before the utter betrayal of demands for representative government by the representative governments of the West, because the people they represented decided that they would be safe from being mislead if they demanding doing next to nothing. This as you have guessed is how they were mislead…..again. Syrians deserve so much better, and it still brings tears to my eyes that Syrian Activists are not being supported by progressive people in the West, even 5 years on. They seem to me to have a weary determination that demands my respect and yours.