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Libya and Syria: What is common and what is different?

libya and syria.jpgMonday, August 22, 2011 - As Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi goes into hiding (I expect that he will take shelter in his southern home area of Sabha, and disappears for ever), and with the Arabic Spring making new gigantic head way toward democracy and more social justice, there is a question which  needs to be addressed: How the Libyan and Syrian governments and situations can be compared?

The origin of power  . Colonel Qaddafi attained power through a military coup in 1969 under the flag of pan Arabs nationalism and socialism.

The same slogans were used by General Hafez Assad when he took power in 1970 in Syria after his military faction in the Baath party defeated the extreme but pure leftists of the “civilian faction”. The two factions went into a bitter power struggle in 1969-1970 after they joined hands in toppling the legitimate leadership of the Baath party in 1965. The two co-founders/ philosophers of the Baath party, Michael Aflaq and Salah Bittar, were forced out of the country during that year, and each went on his own  feet to his own sad end.

The essence of power 

Both regimes depended for survival on:


1. Ultimate loyalty. Any suspicion toward a loyalist meant his political end.

2. The spread of fear among the population. Many savage secret police branches assured success to this methodology.

3. Corruption. When loyalists are corrupt, they become dependent on the leader, and dependence always begets subservience. But the corruption level in Libya was lesser than that in Syria.

The power structure 

Colonel Qaddafi led a tribal coalition in which his tribe (Qazazfa) played an important but not dominant role. He also didn’t try to drastically change the social structure of Libya.


President Hafez maintained relative social justice. Coming from the poor class himself, he always had some feeling of responsibility toward the poor. But he didn’t believe in a coalition of  power. His own loyalists were given full control of the army and secret police.


When President Bachar Assad (graduate of Damascus university in Medicine who spent 18 months in London, thereafter) became president upon the death of his father in 2000, he (inadvertently or advertently) adopted policies which caused drastic changes in the social structure of Syria.  In his efforts to modernize the country, he allowed an unholy alliance between his relatives, associates, and group on one side, and the upper middle class of major cities on other side. This created a new “Nouveaux Rich class” (about 100000 persons with full loyalty and great power in the community) which controlled a large segment of the economy, and a new “Nouveaux Pauvre class” ( Millions of middle class people from the cities turned poor due to wrong economic policies). He, at the same time, maintained full control of the army and secret police.


This perhaps explains the reason behind dissents within Qaddafi’s camp (brutal coalition without substantial class support, and with  less corruption), while no major dissents occurred within president Bachar’s ranks  thus far (absolute power with certain  class support, and hyper corruption).


While Colonel Qaddafi built his power base as well on being a lousy philosopher (the green book and the third theory), the pragmatic Assads spent their time on building a regional base of influence utilizing,  to the best, the geographical importance of Syria, and the West’s hunger for stability even if it comes at the expense of the people .

The handling of the internal crisis via power and propaganda  

The two regimes adopted the same approach to handle revolts in the present Arabs Spring. They used the military solution coupled with a huge media campaign. They sent two contradictory messages:


One addressed to the West: The two regimes are fighting anti west terrorism, and fundamentalism.


The second is addressed to the populations in the two countries: the revolutionaries are mere tools in the universal conspiracy against the two regimes due to their anti Zionist – anti west policies.

The nature and culture of the two societies 

Both the Libyan and Syrian people are courageous and good in nature. But the Libyan society tends more to being a Bedouin society, while the Syrian society is more of a civic and peasants society. This made the Libyans resort to armed struggle when Qaddafi forced them to, while the Syrians adopted peaceful means.


For the same reason (the pragmatism of Bedouins versus the principles’ oriented nature of civic and peasant societies), the Libyans sought UN military interference, while the Syrians refrained from seeking the same. But the Syrians expected solid moral support from the world (specially the West), and a strict no appeasement policies and decisions toward the regime. This hasn’t materialized yet in any serious or effective manner.      

Written by Basel Adnan

Diplomatic Aspects Associate 

NOTE: Article presents the point of view of his writer



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