"In Syria, the choice of the repression succeeded to Bashar Al-Assad"

In 2011, on the eve of the uprising, believes the political scientist, the Syrians no longer believed the reformist rhetoric of the state perceived as a machine that no longer works but continues to suppress.

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Syrian peasants from Daraa province, about 100 kilometers south of Damascus, demonstrate in the Syrian capital on July 9, 2000, to support incumbent President Bashar Al-Assad a day before the presidential plebiscite. LOUAI BESHARA / AFP

Laura Ruiz de Elvira, 38, is a political scientist at the Research Institute for Development (IRD), a specialist in Syria. She worked from 2006 to 2010 in this country to a thesis on charities. She just published Towards the end of the social contract in Syria. Charitable associations and redeployment of the State (2000-2011), published by Karthala (352 pages, 25 euros), a book that offers a rare and precious light on the years leading up to the 2011 uprising.

When Bashar Al-Assad came to power in 2000, a "Damascus Spring" was quickly mentioned. Was it a real phenomenon or a pure communication operation?

Laura Ruiz from Elvira: I was not working on Syria at the time, but it is clear that for a few months, Syrians, including the most skeptical, believed in this new president and his rhetoric about reform and the fight against terrorism. corruption. This has resulted in forums for discussion and many initiatives in civil society. Since 2001, however, there has been a reversal: most of the leaders (from civil society) who had emerged were imprisoned, the forums closed. Those who have not been arrested have been banned from traveling.

Is this due to a misunderstanding on the word "reform"? Where power thought "modernization", society meant "liberalization" …

Bashar Al-Assad became frightened, like his entourage, and he returned to the foundation of the regime, that is, to security management. There was no misunderstanding. The will to reform was there, but the reforms were not well thought out or coordinated. They were taken ad hoc, without an overall vision. The regime never managed to control this process, which resulted in a breach of the social contract.

Like Jacques Chirac, who saw himself as his godfather, the international community was quickly disappointed by Bashar al-Assad. At the time, his hesitations were put on the account of an underground struggle between the young and the old guard. Was it relevant?

This grid was based in part on real facts: when he came to power, Bashar Al-Assad put aside figures of the old guard and brought young technocrats trained abroad. He wanted to reform the administration, he created a Syrian ENA. But some of the personalities he named were quickly dismissed – economists, for example. On the other hand, one of the thinkers of the "social market economy" to which the regime aspired, Abdallah Dardari (Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, appointed in 2006), remained in power until 2011.


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