Of Baath and Djinn: A Syrian fairytale with a potentially unhappy ending

There is a story in the Qur’an about King Solomon, well, a story about his death. He is said to have died while standing on a hill leaning on his wooden staff. Watching from afar, the Jinn continued to do his bidding thinking that he was still alive. The Jinn only knew that Solomon was dead when earthworms ate through his staff and his body collapsed. 

In Syria these days, the regime increasingly looks like the Solomon figure in the above story (that is more dead than wise) while the ruling Baath Party appears more like the staff and its members like earthworms, while the Syrian people are unwittingly playing the role of the unsuspecting Jinn.

How so?

Our not so holy story begins with the assassination of former Lebanese PM, Rafic Hariri, an event for which the Syrian regime was universally blamed, and which paved the way for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the end of the Syrian occupation.

Announcing the withdrawal must have been quite the painful task for Syria’s young President, Bashar Al-Assad, and it came as a major blow to the prestige of the regime. This is probably why the President needed to soften the blow by improvising the promise that the upcoming Baath Party Congress will signal a “qualitative leap” for the country.

This little adlibbed statement of the President started the ball of speculations rolling all over the country, with the rumor mill churning all sorts of reports ranging from a white coup supposed to precede or immediately come after the Congress leading to the liquidation of most top leaders in the Syrian Baath Party and regime, to enacting a series of major constitutional reforms including amending Article 8 of the Constitution which stipulates that the Baath Party is the “leader of state and society.”

These speculations, however, were premised more on wishful thinking than on the underlying realities of the regime and country. For the fact remains that, for all its corruption and irrelevance in the actual management of the country’s affairs, the Baath Party continues to play a critical role in the general scheme of things, an indispensable role, namely that of a fig leaf.

For as fig leaf the Baath Party serves to hide the real face of power in the country: the fact that Syria is being ruled by an assortment of corrupt military officers derived from a particular small sect representing less than 8% of the total population, in cooperation with their lackeys from other sects in the country. Expecting a reform that will remove the Baath Party from the leadership position in the country, therefore, is like asking the country’s elite to take off their clothes in public in a less than welcome, and downright distasteful, photo opportunity.

Nothing could be frightening to Syria’s rulers than this.

For this reason, and despite the futility of the task at hand, Syria’s rulers needed to find a way to revamp the Baath Party, that needed to produce that miracle.

But, and as the events of the last few days have shown, the man who, five years ago, told his country’s parliament that he had no magic wand to fix the country’s problem proved that he was not a miracle-worker either. For the Baath Congress’s concluding recommendations could not even meet the minimal level of popular expectations.

Accepting the resignation of the country’s long-serving VP, Abdulhaleem Khaddam, among other top brass Party members, only to replace them with relatively younger officials armed with the same mentality, and calling for the review of the country’s forty-plus year-old state of emergency, were not exactly startling developments, and could not in themselves pave the way to any serious changes in the country, neither political nor economic.

Indeed, the mediocrity of these recommendations and the poor organization of the entire event to begin with, have demonstrated to one and all that the Syrian Regime is indeed defunct. Yes, it can still crackdown, imprison, kill and destroy, but it can neither reform itself nor the country. The Baath is no longer a viable institution, and as hard as it wants to, the regime can no longer lean on it. In fact, it has just collapsed under its weight.

So, how long will it take for the Syrian people to accept and acknowledge the collapse of the Baath Party and the demise of the regime?

Well, it all depends on how many people there are that are still willing to think like our Minister of Expatriate Affairs, Bouthaina Shaaban, when she recently said: “if the there were no Baath, we will invent it.”

For accepting the regime’s death means accepting responsibility for the reform process. Since this is an increasingly a difficult well-nigh impossible task, and since most opposition parties and dissident movements have no clue how to go about it, as they tend to be defunct themselves, they are unlikely to accept the death of the regime, not even when they too eventually collapse until its deadweight.

Being caught in between two defunct sets of institutions can only augur ill for the future of Syria. Even without international pressures, the country seems destined for an implosion. For, eventually, the Jinn do get out of the lamps. Syria’s problem is that there is no Aladdin in sight.

Written for an electronic platform.