Category: Community Written by Roz Edward, National Content Director
He seemed to inherit none of his father's (Hafez al-Assad) or his brothers' (Maher and Bassel al-Assad) intelligence, strength, and leadership skills.
Even Bashar's physical appearance --- his tall and thin frame --- added to his image as a frail person in the eyes of the majority of Syrian people.
But, more fundamentally, the invisible hand of history would soon sweep away these perceptions and prove the majority wrong.
How did the blue-eyed, tall, Western-educated ophthalmologist and reserved al-Assad, the one who was trained as a doctor to diagnose and eradicate diseases, so misgovern the domestic, regional, geopolitical and socio-economic affairs of Syria?
How did the soft-spoken, withdrawn al-Assad, who favors a thin mustache, transcend into one of the most despised political figures of his generation?
Before Bashar al-Assad became president, he was viewed by various Syrian social groups as rather bookish, not someone with the instincts or the drive to lead a country.
Even a sympathizer with the Assad regime, an Alawite named Abu Hisham said to me: "Bashar cannot stand against powers such as Israel and the United States. We need a leader who is strong like Bassel." "He's certainly not a leader," my cousin (who was later killed in the recent uprising) and his friends would say of Bashar before he assumed power.
Bashar's destiny changed dramatically when he received a phone call from his father Hafez al-Assad in 1994. While studying at the Western Eye Hospital in England to be a professional ophthalmologist--- and later live a luxurious life in the West--- he was told to return to Damascus.
The news of his older brother, Bassel's death in a car accident had reached Bashar and changed the direction of his life. Bassel was a parachutist, an accomplished athlete, a ladies' man, and an outgoing statesman being groomed to succeed his father as president.
As Bashar was far from the public eye and not as involved in political affairs, Hafez al-Assad and his old guard advisors trained Bashar for several years in military and political affairs, along with Socialist Ba'ath and secular ideals. The military and ideological training of the al-Assads' old guard altered Bashar.
However, Bashar al-Assad seems to have a distinct vision for Syria, other than the Socialist Ba'ath agenda of his father's old guard. While he endorsed the old guard's use of hard power and mass repression, the lifestyle and wealth of the West still occupied al-Assad's mind when he assumed power.
In his inaugural speech, Bashar al-Assad emphasized that it was time to begin modernizing Syria. He stated: "I shall try my very best to lead our country towards a future that fulfils the hopes and legitimate ambitions of our people."
While Hafez al-Assad and the old guard favored the more fundamentally socialist agenda of the Ba'ath party and attempted to gain legitimacy and support through minorities (Christians, Alawite, Shiite, and Druze), Bashar al-Assad focused on gradually adopting economic liberalization, neo-liberal and capitalist policies.
This economic policy change intended to accumulate capital and wealth for the gilded inner circle, as well as to gain the support of other crucial social base--- the business class--- besides minorities.
Bashar al-Assad miscalculated his policy changes though, as economic liberalization requires parallel political liberations. While Bashar al-Assad transferred public assets into the hands of his inner circle and top members of the business class, he resisted political liberations, equality, and redistribution of the wealth.
He also increased the political repressions against political dissidents and human rights activists. Those social groups, that opposed the trained doctor, became the diagnosed diseases which had to be eradicated.
In addition, his policies tremendously increased the gap between the rich and poor. Bashar al-Assad also allowed Iran to enjoy greater influence in Syria.
Internal clashes and tensions between Bashar al-Assad and the old guard founding members of the Alawite-Ba'athist and socialist regime of Hafez al-Assad occurred.
Men such as Ali Duba (the former head of the Syrian military intelligence and a close adviser to Hafez al-Assad), as well as hardliners such as Maher al-Assad (Bashar al-Assad's brother and commander of the Republican Guard and the Army's elite Fourth Armored Division) disagreed with Bashar's departure from Socialist Ba'ath policies.
Bashar and his inner circle did gain short-term benefits, however, the long-term consequences sparked in March 2011.
When the popular uprising erupted, Bashar focused on retaining the support of three significant social and political groups: the business class, the minorities (Alawite, Christians, Shiite, Druze, etc), and his hard power apparatuses (the army, Shabiha, snipers, intelligence, police, etc).
Additionally, Bashar responded to the uprising with mixed reactions, on one hand offering promises and on the other enforcing mass repression.
Bashar also allowed the empowerment and return of the old guard and hardliners such as one of the orchestrators of the Hama massacre Ali Duba and Maher al-Assad. For Bashar, Maher, and the old guard, tolerance for dissidents and compromise meant encouragement of further revolt.
Bashar al-Assad and the old guard managed to survive as Syria's civil war has entered into its third year. Besides the mass repression and use of brute force, a crucial reason that the regime has been able to retain power is that a considerable amount of the business class, the minorities, and the army have not yet defected.
Secondly, Bashar is cognizant of the international political structure and how he can use the strategic and geopolitical significance of Syria in order to gain financial, military, and intelligence support from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia.
Thirdly, Bashar al-Assad has been capable of creating distinct narratives among the minorities, the business class and the West.
Finally, Bashar has worked to pass off, to the international community, the idea that there is no better or more efficient alternative to his rule.
As Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly argued, either he, or the "terrorists" will rule Syria. He has infused this argument with a threat -- that if he does not rule over a unified Syria, he can instigate as conflict throughout the region and turn the nation into a conflagration.
Editor's note: Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-Syrian author and scholar, Middle East expert, and U.S. foreign policy specialist. He is the president of the International American Council and serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. Follow him on Twitter: @majidrafizadeh
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Majid Rafizadeh.
Last Updated on Sunday, 08 September 2013 16:55
Category: Community Written by Michigan Chronicle
Clergy representing the world will gather in prayer, peace and love at Renaissance Unity’s Interfaith Opening Service on Wednesday, September 11 at 7:00 pm in Warren, MI. All are welcomed.
The Interfaith Service will include prayers from religious leaders from Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Native American and Sikh traditions. The Hindu Temple Rhythms from the Bharatiya Temple in Troy will perform traditional Hindu dances.
The Interfaith Service combines people of many different beliefs in a collective spirit of love.
“As we look at the world from the perspective of the ‘other’ person we begin to recognize that we are all more alike than previously imagined. We experience our Oneness,” said Sandy Hess, associate minister at Renaissance Unity and chair of the event.
Oneness resonates throughout the Interfaith Service.
People from diverse cultures and religions will be in attendance. For many this is an event they look forward to each year. JoAnn Plater, Detroit, has been attending the services for more than a decade.
“The Interfaith Service is an opportunity to learn how other faiths experience the power of God,” said Plater.
Those who have attended the service find it inclusive, enlightening and beautiful.
“I am going to bring more people, said Sandra Wettergren,” Clinton Twp. It is an enlightening service where people can experience God in an open, non-threatening way.
After the Interfaith Service Opening Ceremony, each prayer request is prayed for during the 24-hour prayer vigil. This culminates into Unity’s 20th World Day of Prayer. This year’s theme is, “Heart to Heart in Prayer We Can Heal the World”.
Unity World Day of Prayer started in 1994 to promote peace and healing of each individual, the community, and the world. This sacred initiative is held in Unity Churches throughout the world.
The community is encouraged to attend this night of faith, community, peace and healing.
Renaissance Unity is located at 11200 E. Eleven Mile Rd. on the south side of I-696 service drive just west of Hoover Rd. in Warren, MI. For further information visit http://www.renaissanceunity.org/or call 586-353-2300.
Last Updated on Friday, 06 September 2013 01:06
Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment and Wayne County Community College Present SAFE’s 2013 Empowerment Weekend
Category: Community Written by AJ Williams, Chronicle Web Editor
“Strengthening survivors of domestic violence, their families and our community”
DETROIT, MI – September 4, 2013 Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment (SAFE) is presenting its signature free community event “2013 Empowerment Weekend” October 11-12, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. SAFE is dedicated to the financial empowerment of victims of domestic violence by providing training, workshops and resources to equip program participants with the tools necessary to become self-sufficient. Wayne County Community College District – Northwest Campus has partnered with SAFE to ensure that this weekend is a success.
SAFE’s O.P.E.N. (Opportunity, Preparation, Entrepreneurship, Networking) for Business Conference is designed to support survivors of domestic violence in starting their own micro-enterprise. Key topics include starting, growing and sustaining a business along with supplementing current earnings to become self-sufficient and safety planning. This conference will be held October 11, 2013 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at a confidential location for 100 survivors of domestic violence. To maintain participant confidentiality, location information for this event will only be given to registered attendees
SAFE’s Health & Wealth Expo is one of the signature events of SAFE’s Empowerment weekend and it will be held on Saturday, October 12, 2013, from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm at the Wayne County Community College Northwest District Campus at 8200 W. Outer Drive, Detroit, Michigan. SAFE’s Health & Wealth Expo is a free event open to men and women. Free workshops will highlight topics such as healthy living on a budget, stress reduction, job seeking tips, domestic violence awareness and personal finance. Other highlights include a free lunch sponsored by Whole Foods Market Detroit for the first 1,000 attendees with beverages provided by Sam’s Club’s Southfield, Michigan Club, health screenings, community resources, interviewing and resume tips, free massages and sample packs from various sponsors. Over 750 people attended the last Expo and over 1,200 community members are expected to attend this year.
SAFE is dedicated to the financial empowerment of victims of domestic violence by providing training, workshops and resources to equip program participants with the tools necessary to become self-sufficient while implementing strategies to keep survivors of domestic violence safe from further abuse. Since its inception SAFE has assisted over 730 victims of domestic violence and this event will serve as an opportunity to raise awareness in the community regarding domestic violence while equipping community members with information and resources to help them to live healthier, safer lives.
"SAFE’s Empowerment Weekend events have a proven record of helping members of our community connect with resources and information that they have utilized to help themselves and their families.” Kalyn Risker, Founder and Executive Director, Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment (SAFE)
Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment (SAFE) is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to equip survivors of domestic violence with the appropriate financial tools and resources needed to enable women to leave or recover from the economic portion of domestic violence.
For more information, contact SAFE’s conference hotline at 888.225.0326 or visit newsafestart.org for details about SAFE’s Empowerment Weekend, registration, sponsorship and media opportunities.
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 05:17
Category: Community Written by AJ Williams, Chronicle Web Editor
Michigan State University’s Michigan Political Leadership Program is extending its deadline for applications for the Class of 2014 an extra week, Co-Directors Anne Mervenne and Steve Tobocman announced Tuesday.
“We want to honor those applications that are still coming in,” the co-directors said in a joint statement. “We know there is strong interest for the nation’s foremost program in political leadership training,” Mervenne said.
The new deadline is Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.
The 10-month program traditionally trains 24 people each year in the skills needed for personal leadership development, public policy analysis and effective community and government leadership. Applicants come from all professions, but share a passion for the pursuit of knowledge, community service and elective office.
Weekend sessions take place around the state and include hands-on activities, seminars with the state’s highest leaders and media relations training. The program is offered through MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research housed in the College of Social Sciences.
MPLP welcomed its first class of Fellows in 1992, and since that time has granted certificates to more than 500 alumni. Alumni reports list about 45 percent of MPLP graduates who have been elected or appointed to public office. They serve at every level and include 14 MPLP graduates now serving in the Michigan House of Representatives.
A list of all MPLP alumni is available at http://ippsr.msu.edu/mplp/13MPLPAlumni.pdf
Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 17:12
Category: Community Written by AJ Williams, Chronicle Web Editor
Do you have children in your home who love to sing 24/7? If so, they should be members of Detroit’s own Courville Concert Choir. This is a community choir of boys and girls (ages 10-17) who love to sing and perform. This music program promotes structure and discipline in the leaders of tomorrow. The Courville Concert Choir rehearsals are Saturdays from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm at the True Oracles of God Ministries located at 1500 State Fair, corner of Hull.
For more information, please call (313) 861-5405.
Allso, please see and hear the Courville Concert Choir on YouTube.com and at courvilleconcertchoir.org.
For additional information, please call (313) 861-5405.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 16:39
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