Rana Kabbani, The Guardian, March 30, 2011
I was five when emergency law was imposed in my native Syria. I am now 53. During this intolerably long period, my country was turned step by chilling step by the ideologues and security service enforcers of the Ba’th party into the totalitarian state it is today. When Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, came to power through yet another violent army squabble leading to his coup of 1970, an alarming cult of the leader was systematically formed around him, modelled on Ceausescu. The Romanian dictator was Assad’s political ally, strategic adviser in matters of popular repression, and close personal and family friend.
This cult was no easy thing to achieve in rowdy, opinionated and sardonic Syria, with its valiant history of fighting the xenophobic Turkish nationalism that came with the last years of the Ottoman empire and led to the hanging of so many Arab patriots in Marjeh Square. The brutal French colonialism sought to divide and rule the country, bombing Damascus twice and burning down a residential quarter that was home to many resistance fighters, including my paternal grandfather, Tawfik Kabbani. To this day the area is called Hariqa, or “fire”, in memory of the thousands of civilians wounded or killed.