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Nationalism and reform under Bashar al-Asad: Reading the “legitimacy” of the Syrian regime

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Article
The February 2008 assassination of paramilitary mastermind Imad Mughniyeh and the July War of 2006 presented challenges to Hezbollah's capacity as a military organization. i Yet the group has attempted to use its media capabilities to translate the two events into political capital in Lebanon and the wider Arab World. While the reach of Hezbollah's media apparatus has grown with its integration into Internet-based platforms, the group has also become adept in the creation and presentation of its political media content. Hezbollah's media responses to these specific incidents demonstrate how the group has become skilled at framing key episodes of political violence against the backdrop of historical themes that resonate with the group's domestic and regional constituencies. With a narrative that transcends and conflates time and space, the group's media aim to cultivate Hezbollah's image as being the vanguard of resistance against perceived Israeli and Western domination. In commemorative videos produced by Al Manar in response to Mughniyeh's death, this narrative is largely derived from the group's own unique political culture of militancy and Shiism, while aspects of the group's prolific media response to the July War of 2006 also incorporate broader nostalgic themes of pan-Arabism. Thus, the group has sought to utilize these events to further reinforce its image of defiance by tapping into themes of revisionism that have timeless currency with its local Shia and greater Arab audiences.
Article
The succession of Syria's leadership from President Hafiz al-Assad to his son Bashar arguably weakens the country in some respects, but it has also reset political priorities in a way that critics have often demanded. Under Hafiz al-Assad, the dominant assumption was that serious domestic reforms would have to wait for a peace process with Israel to be concluded. Under Bashar, the linkage between foreign policy and domestic reform has changed. For as long as the peace process is stalled, Bashar al-Assad can devote more attention to domestic issues. He also has strong incentive to do so: his domestic priority is to consolidate his position and extend his power base. Most probably, compared to his father, he feels a stronger commitment to meet the expectations of his own generation.
Article
In Syria, the image of President Hafiz al-Asad is everywhere. In newspapers, on television, and during orchestrated spectacles Asad is praised as the "father," the "gallant knight," even the country's "premier pharmacist." Yet most Syrians, including those who create the official rhetoric, do not believe its claims. Why would a regime spend scarce resources on a cult whose content is patently spurious? Wedeen concludes that Asad's cult acts as a disciplinary device, generating a politics of public dissimulation in which citizens act as if they revered their leader. By inundating daily life with tired symbolism, the regime exercises a subtle, yet effective form of power. The cult works to enforce obedience, induce complicity, isolate Syrians from one another, and set guidelines for public speech and behavior. Wedeen's ethnographic research demonstrates how Syrians recognize the disciplinary aspects of the cult and seek to undermine them. Provocative and original, Ambiguities of Domination is a significant contribution to comparative politics, political theory, and cultural studies.
Notes From the Arab Spring
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Mohammed Bamyeh, ‗Anarchist, Liberal, and Authoritarian Enlightenments: Notes From the Arab Spring', 30 July 2011, available at Jadaliyya.com
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The Syrian People Want Unity, Freedom, and a Civilian State'', Qantara.de
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Bassam ‗Sharks and Dinosaurs: State-Business relations in Syria
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Haddad, Bassam ‗Sharks and Dinosaurs: State-Business relations in Syria, Global Studies Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 2007.
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International Crisis Group (ICG), ‗Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (VI): The Syrian people's slow motion revolution
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Hinnebusch, Raymond, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba'thist Syria, Boulder, Westview Press, 1990. International Crisis Group (ICG), ‗Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (VI): The Syrian people's slow motion revolution', 6 July 2011.
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Leverett, Flynt, Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire, Washington, Brookings Institute Press, 2005.
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Perthes, Volker, Syria under Bashar al-Asad: Modernisation and the Limits of Change, Adelphi Papers London: Oxford University Press for IISS, 2004.
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Seifan, Samir, Syria on the Path of Economic Reform, St Andrews Paper on Contemporary Syria, Boulder, Lynne Rienner, 2010.
‗Assad's cousin says Syria will fight protests till ‗the end
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Shadid, ‗Assad's cousin says Syria will fight protests till ‗the end', Yalibnan.com, 10 May 2011.
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Sottimano, Aurora and Kjetil Selvik, Changing Regime Discourse and Reform in Syria, St Andrews Papers on Contemporary Syria, Boulder;
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Asad: the Struggle for the Middle East, 1988 and Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba'thist Syria
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See, among others, Seale, Asad: the Struggle for the Middle East, 1988 and Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba'thist Syria, Boulder, Westview Press, 1990.
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Ba'th MP Ahmad Suleiman in Tishrin, 24 May 2005.
On the Syrian ‗networks of privilege', see Haddad, ‗Sharks and Dinosaurs: State-Business relations in Syria
On the Syrian ‗networks of privilege', see Haddad, ‗Sharks and Dinosaurs: State-Business relations in Syria, in Global Studies Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 2007.
Yasin al-Haj Saleh and Nabil Sukkar explicitly agreed on this point. Author's interviews
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Samir Seifan, Yasin al-Haj Saleh and Nabil Sukkar explicitly agreed on this point. Author's interviews, Damascus March 2010.
Syria under Bashar al-Asad
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Perthes, Syria under Bashar al-Asad, cit.