June 10, 2000 marked the end of an era in Syria. After almost 30 years in power, President Hafez al-Asad (70) passed away in Damascus from a heart attack. There are now many doubts regarding the future prospects of this country, which enjoyed relative domestic stability, though achieved with an iron grip and sometimes in brutal ways to suppress any opposition.
It appears as though the late President Asad’s eldest son, Dr. Bashar, is poised to succeed his father. Soon after his dad’s death, Bashar was appointed head of the Ba’ath Party and commander of Syria’s armed forces. On June 27, Syria's parliament unanimously approved the nomination of Bashar as the country's next president and set July 10 for a public referendum to endorse his accession.
A 34-year old ophthalmologist, Bashar has been groomed since 1994 for the country’s leadership. In order to prepare for his succession, Bashar experienced a short military career, and began dealing with issues that were popular with the public (e.g., anti-corruption drive, Internet introduction). President al-Asad had devoted himself to the task of paving the way for his son in order for his succession to unfold smoothly. In doing so, he neutralized potential rivals who were capable of threatening Bashar’s future rule over the nation. However, the Syrian hard-liner did not have enough time to arrange the entire complex for his son. Some of the veteran leadership, who in recent months were carefully scrutinized by the late president, still maintain substantial influence within the military and security apparatus. Their presence creates a major opposition force against the young heir.
The demise of al-Asad puts strong question marks on the possibility of resuming peace negotiations with Israel. It was widely agreed that if Hafez al-Asad were to have signed a peace pact with Israel, the Syrian people would have deemed it acceptable. Now, the consensus of experts on the subject is that a new leader, in his first years in office, will not have the resources nor the persona to bring his people towards a comprehensive peace with Israel, that may involve some Syrian concessions.
The path for Bashar’s accession was cleared in early March with the formation of a new cabinet. Former Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Zu'bi (who later committed suicide after corruption allegations) was replaced by a relatively unknown figure in Syrian politics - the governor of Aleppo province, Mustafa Miro (59). During his five-year reign over the second most important region of the country, Miro earned a reputation of honesty and a determination to combat corruption. The character of Syria’s new cabinet should serve to strengthen Bashar's power base in his homeland.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )