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Assad's call to arms echoes Gaddafi's final days

Monday, 7 January 2013 - 10:38am IST | Place: Cairo | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
Assad is no Gaddafi, of course. But his smoother, educated, more rational persona, lacking the Gaddafi instinct for the absurd, makes him in some ways even more of a mystery.
  • DNA

There was more than a little of the Gaddafi about Bashar al-Assad's appearance on Sunday, and not just the theatre of a personality cult.

It was the first time in two years of revolution we have seen support for the Syrian leader so choreographed, accompanied by such fist-pumping chants from the audience. Even the slogans were like those of the slain Libyan dictator: "God, Syria, Bashar, enough."

Reminiscent too was the rambling delivery, leaping incoherently back and forth between vague peace proposals and unremitting imprecations against the opposition: "al-Qaeda", "armed criminals", "foreign terrorists" were also prominent in Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's vocabulary.

Then there were the lapses into bizarre sentimentality, as when he announced: "I look at the eyes of Syria's children and I don't see any happiness" - something that would hardly surprise anyone who watched the news over the past two years. Assad is no Gaddafi, of course. But his smoother, educated, more rational persona, lacking the Gaddafi instinct for the absurd, makes him in some ways even more of a mystery.

There was always a sense that Gaddafi was happy to go down fighting, preferring melodrama in death to the dull reality of compromise or surrender. Assad presents himself as someone who is in full control of events, the contrast between his discourse and the reality of events even more puzzling. If the rebels were on the run, his outlining of the steps by which they might hand themselves in to his mercy might be seen as magisterial; his proposal that his enemies should lay down their weapons, their foreign backers withdraw, in return for a generous pledge of "national dialogue" might sound convincing.

But there is no sense in which Assad could be described as winning. He has lost large parts of the country, including half the biggest city, and significant numbers of armed men are at the gates of Damascus itself. The real question is not why the rebels should accept these modest proposals but why they should negotiate at all when they think Assad is doomed.

At the end, he was mobbed by fans, just as Gaddafi was at his final appearances in Tripoli. Were they expressing their love for their leader? Or was it panic, and a clue to the speech's real purpose - a desperate attempt to assure the remaining faithful that in their time of need, their leader had not forgotten them.




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