Personality Cult: Syrians worshiping fear and idealizing al-Assad

Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas

For more than 50 years, statues and posters of the ruling al-Assad family have spread to every corner, street and town of the Syrian provinces, serving as optical means designed specifically to strengthen the power of these authoritarian figures and idealize their image in society. the collective unconscious on a daily basis.

In Syria, the zero political freedom country, fear and intimidation are the sources of legitimacy of the leader. The concept of politics has gone beyond the power struggle to become a planned approach aimed at controlling the visuals, symbolic values ​​and the subconscious of Syrians.

This relationship between governing power and society fueled by coercion and built on obedience for fear of losing basic human rights comes into play at any event or national law. In such moments, an important segment of Syrian society has its national sense centered on the figure of the leader, while the country, its culture, its institutions and its identity become matters of little or no importance to them.

Recently, supporters of the President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad have used presidential election campaigns to renew their allegiance, chant slogans and express their support, and on several occasions they have gone so far as to idealize him.

A video of one of al-Assad’s support rallies showed a group of young men chanting “Bashar is our God”, while on May 13, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr sermon at the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, in the presence of al-Assad, the eminent Syrian cleric Hussam al-Din Farfour declared that al-Assad “has the same merits of God”, after the latter published an general forgiveness crimes committed before May 2.

Factors contributing to a worship of the sovereign in Syria

The idea of ​​placing a ruler in divine status has security, social, cultural and economic factors behind it, not to mention the responsiveness of society to this concept.

Syrian social researcher Hussam al-Saad said Enab Baladi that the deification of rulers is a quality of societies controlled by dictatorial regimes. These regimes train obedient subordinates who see their authority or leader as a unique role model. Such a belief can be attributed to different reasons, including the reign of society by the same governing power for long periods or decades leading people to believe that the established authority or ruler is ideal for the country.

In Syria, public historical figures are celebrated but not glorified, as any glorification must be attributed only to the ruler. Thus, the symbolism of famous figures in Syrian history is appreciated in the periods in which they lived but is not glorified in Syria today.

Al-Saad said that this social phenomenon first appeared when the ruling power in Syria produced political rhetoric glorifying the eternal holiness and heroism of the “leader”. In addition, certain groups of people, sects or influential individuals have sought to strengthen the political propaganda of authority to protect the privileges granted to them by the same governing authority.

Cults or groups of individuals profiting from power in power realize that the disappearance of the authoritarian ruler necessarily means the disappearance of their advantages, and they fear reprisals in the event of political change. According to al-Saad, these fears are mere justifications for continuing to glorify the ruler and are not necessarily true.

When Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1971, many of the Alawite sect immigrated from the countryside of coastal and central regions to Syrian cities to strengthen their positions curled up around the ruling power, al-Saad said. He added that Hafez was seeking to promote a secular regime to gain the support and loyalty of other minorities.

Al-Saad added that the profiteer class surrounding the ruler is largely responsible for creating a sacred aura around the ruler within Syrian society. He also blamed Syrian cultural symbols, which see their interests in the survival of government power and political structure.

The ruling power in Syria has endeavored to woo and attract influential community leaders, who have been the backbone of the leader’s deification project by expressing respect for the leader in the media, by spreading disinformation. , by falsifying the facts and repeatedly breaking professional standards.

By investing in the allegiance of community leaders, the ruling authority in Syria has secured biased subordinates who would promote the deceptive narrative of the authority to be a true representative of the people and of democracy, the watchful eye of the national unity and Arab national aspirations, and an embodiment of constancy. against Western imperialism and Israeli expansionist ambitions.

Personality cult prevails in the absence of the rule of law

Authoritarian servitude in Syria erases any form of freedom or liberation; it demonizes all who oppose it and works to alienate Syrian society from the framework of international human rights laws to achieve a power-aligned state far from the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The rule of law is far from established in Syria, as the intelligence mentality has stifled this principle since the al-Baath party became the head of Syrian society and state in the 1970s. of spirit has seriously hampered Syrians’ access to human rights through execution a state of emergency following the uprising of 2011 caused mainly by the non-application of the rule of law to safeguard the rights and freedoms of individuals.

The current Syrian Constitution, which was adopted in 2012, has enabled the authoritarian governing body to propose and enact legislation without controls, standards, or any consideration for other political or community forces. He allowed the state executive branch to dominate the judiciary and control all spheres of life in Syria through a feared security apparatus known as the intelligence service.

A pathological condition, what is the treatment?

Social science researcher Safwan Mushli said Enab Baladi that the phenomenon of the cult of personality in Syria is a pathological social condition taking place when public freedoms are ensured throughout the world. It is one of the neurotic psychological disorders triggered by immense fear and leads to personality disorder and psychological imbalance.

This disorder includes mythologizing and sanctifying the ruler and symbols of power to satisfy unconscious psychological motives.

Mushli added that sectarian practices triggered by fear or some sort of pathological attachment to the leader are a clear symptom of a neurotic psychological disorder that affects groups or individuals in a society. A person with such symptoms suffers from deep fears developed from childhood and reinforced by an environment of repression or intimidation.

In addition, any environment characterized by strong economic and social pressures is a factor in the development of a collective neurotic disorder. Under similar pressures, individuals lose their ability to adapt; they lose their sense of self-control and worth and collapse for fear of misery, marginalization and lack of social recognition. Thus, they resort to the creation of illusions and heroic images invented for dictator figures in which they see a savior for their neurotic personalities.

Neurosis can affect an entire community sharing the same level of political oppression and economic deprivation. In this case, a desperate society would create a myth around a figure or the power that the figure represents and wait for the mythical savior to end the suffering, just like a drowning man will cling to a straw, said Mushli.

The more repression there is, the more individuals will be inclined to adopt mythical delusions around the leader to compensate for the deficit caused by political repression and the pressures of impoverishment of authoritarian powers, thus drowning in a spiral of inferiority, d failure and loss of self-esteem.

Individual and collective neuroses cause people to get lost in a spiral of emotions, according to Mushli; it creates a mental disorder which is the product of political and security oppression and tyranny and leads to submissive and obedient individuals unable to match the status of the authoritarian figure they regard as a divine ruler.

According to Mushli, the sadistic nature of dictatorial authority in Syria increases whenever it commits heinous crimes against people, which is seen as an extreme deviation from the role of authority in society.

Powerful figures in Syria who constantly ask for praise and appreciation to appease their pathological narcissism also suffer from a psychological disorder. They seek admiration and glorification for whatever they say or do and are completely out of touch with reality. They see themselves as divine humans, and “Syria is the perfect environment for the production of divine individuals,” according to Mushli.

Ever since the al-Baath party dominated the political scene in Syria, Hafez al-Assad has focused his efforts on being the center of power. He implanted in Syrian society the idea that the fate of Syria and the regime were intimately linked until Assad’s name became associated with the identity of the state, verbally and in reality as a “Syria of Assad”.

During the reign of Hafez al-Assad, the Syrians marched in supportive rallies chanting, “Stand aside, my God! Hafez came to take your place, ”and even after his death, people chanted to his funeral, “Be merry, God!” Hafez will accompany you and leave us ”, referring to Hafez al-Assad as“ immortal human on earth ”.

Personality cult is the necessary alternative for any authority that has lost its legitimacy in a social environment of oppression and tyranny, Mushli said.

Society has a responsibility to free individuals from this pathological condition by raising awareness and recognizing this disorder and electing a democratic system of government because all undemocratic regimes resort to dictatorial practices without exception under different pretexts.

At the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, statues glorifying Hafez and Bashar al-Assad were shot down, symbolizing the dominance of society over political symbols that once dominated Syria’s past. Those who opposed the regime tried to shape a new political, economic and social reality; they began to exist as individuals separated from the image of the authoritarian ruler and to be freed from a past painted by coercion and fear.

However, the authority in power in Syria represented by Bashar al-Assad continues to establish the hegemony and the sanctity of its political symbols in the Syrian society to export the cult of the concept of personality to the new Syrian generations.

For example, when the Syrian regime forces recaptured some of the destroyed towns once controlled by the opposition, the regime began re-erect statues amid destroyed houses and empty areas in a scene better compared to the great Ozymandias, the king of kings, standing alone in the empty desert.

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