The iron rule of the Asad dynasty over Syria’s people is forty-two years old. It began in 1970 when then Defense Minister Hafez al-Asad carried out a bloody coup against his own party colleagues and appointed himself president. Hafez, the family patriarch and dictator for life, killed or jailed companions he perceived as his rivals, supported violent extremism whenever he found it useful, and plundered Syria’s riches while arresting and torturing any dissenter. Over two generations of Asads, a brutal government in Damascus has been the main Mideast ally of an increasingly belligerent Iran. Bashar al-Asad, the son, has acted as the chief facilitator for Sunni extremist killers in Iraq over the past ten years. In Lebanon, Asad’s father and son have wrought havoc since 1975, killing in turn Palestinians, Muslim Lebanese, Christian Lebanese, and whoever dared help the return of stability to a country torn asunder. They assassinated the most prominent Lebanese leaders who stood in their way, including Kamal Jumblat in 1977, Bashir Gemayel in 1982, and in all likelihood Rafik Hariri in 2005. Operatives of self-proclaimed “Loyal to Asad’s Syria” Hizbullah are now under indictment before the Special Tribunal of Lebanon for Hariri’s murder, and scores of journalists and politicians along with hundreds of other innocent people have been assassinated, “disappeared,” or randomly killed.
Most tragically, the Asads never hesitated to commit mass murder against the Syrians. Hama’s historic center was leveled to the ground in 1982, and the relentless siege, bombardment, and mass killing continues to this day a pattern of ruthless governance across the country, with Homs the latest victim.
Both the future of the Middle East and the success of the formidable nonviolent mass movement in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen depend on what happens next in Damascus. If the dictatorship survives, if its main pillars are not brought to justice on the way to a democratic transition, Asad’s continued rule will doom domestic and international peace in the region and beyond. Why? Because the nonviolent movement will find it hard to recover from this blow. Asad’s regime itself will have its own noxious effect on peace. Yet more deeply, more world-historically, it will be harder—much harder—to argue to any brave young man or woman cleaving to nonviolence that this path, although potentially bloody in sacrifice, is the right form of resistance to tyranny.
Our joint reflection seeks to bring recognition to the unparalleled bravery and sustained nonviolent resistance of Syria’s revolution and to provide concrete political means to help end the forty-two year long reign of death and fear. Drawing on the appropriate tools of international law and the strength of Syrian revolution, the ends and the means of the strategy proposed must remain worthy of the sacrifice of Syria’s thousands of nonviolent demonstrators.