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Too much was made of today's ABC Interview with the Syrian President Bashar Asad today, at least in the so-called "West," as compared with the Middle East. Notably, this was the first time in a long while that Bashar spoke publicly, and certainly the first time he appeared on an American network. In this BBC interview, Jadaliyya Co-Editor Bassam Haddad states that "the more you know about Syria, the less effective the interview is, and the less you know about Syria, the more effective it is, even if not too effective."
Listen below. Transcript below.
BBC Interview Transcript
BBC: If you were President Assad, would you have given that interview?
Bassam Haddad (BH): [laughs] That’s a bit tough to answer. Probably yes, because the fact that you are calling me and other networks are calling Syria researchers and experts, is evidence that this interview is actually steering the attention a bit more in the direction of discourse rather than the realities, the brutal realities that are taking place on the streets. And I have been contacted by a number of networks, basically saying something about the demeanor of the president, which is calm, collected. And that is again, some sort of evidence that it was a good move. As I shared with your correspondent earlier, the more you know about Syria, the less effective this interview is, and the less you know about Syria, the more effective it is, even if it is not too effective.
BBC: Here we are exactly. Let’s assume I know nothing, and President Assad sounds like a big teddy bear, he can’t understand all this fuss.
BH: Yes, if you listen to the interview, and you do not know exactly what is happening, you might actually want to investigate more, because something doesn’t add up. However, we are not at that point. We all know what has been happening. It is not that the president is delusional, or in denial. It is actually a situation where the president is on message. And the message has been whatever violence that exists in Syria is a function of armed gangs or armed groups that are outside the realm of the state. Everything besides that point, perhaps even he was alluding to some sort of external level of interference, intervention, conspiracy, but beyond that, he is basically reassuring at least people that are on his side, that everything is business as usual. And I would read this interview also as intended for a general audience that knows very little about Syria, and the supporters of the regime or those who are supporters of the status quo, because this interview, the content of it is less important than the actual style and demeanor.
BBC: Style over substance. You raised the question of control there, and we were told for a long time that the army might have been acting outside of Assad’s control. Did you believe that?
BH: [long pause] No.
BBC: What evidence is there that he is still calling the shots?
BH: I don’t think we have to look for evidence for a president of a quite stern institutional structure when it comes to coercive apparatuses. I don’t think we need to look for the existence of a clear chain of command after forty-some years of this regime being in place and existence and firmly so. I think one has to look for evidence of the opposite.
BBC: How do you think he is responding to the increasing sanctions? Turkey is now announcing a 30% tax on everything from Syria. That’s huge.
BH: The Turkish situation is actually quite complex. Turkey is able to harm Syria’s economy greatly not just in terms of Syrian products, because the trade direction in the reverse case is actually bigger. But also in terms of, basically the question of products going through Syria from Turkey and so on. The question is complex because the Turks are also going to be harmed by ceasing their exports to Syria. Turkey, over the past few years, with the increasing warm relations that took place prior to the emergence of the uprisings, had become a very important trading partner with Syria, and it actually benefitted more than the Syrians did, because if you went to Damascus in January 2011, which is when I was there, Turkish products filled Syrian markets. So it’s tricky in the sense that Turkey will also be shooting itself in the foot.
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