OH, YOU ,IMMORTAL FATHER…
The funeral march from Beethoven’s Eroica (“heroic”) symphony played in the background as pallbearers bore the casket into the palace. There the flag-draped coffin stayed for several hours as diplomats and leaders from around the world, including U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, came to pay their last respects to Assad. Some spectators faint As the funeral procession made its way through the streets of Damascus, women shrieked and wept. Old men in white skullcaps fingered prayer beads. People packed rooftop and clambered up light poles to get a better view. Some spectators passed out in the stifling heat, although soldiers were handing out water.
Mourners fill streets
On Monday, Syrians flooded into Damascus to march through the streets to mourn the only leader many of them had ever known and to show their support for his son and heir apparent. With practically all other shops closed, vendors did a brisk business selling black mourning cloth for the flags and banners that were carried in the marches and draped over balconies.
“We’re sad about the death of the president, but we come to pledge our support to Bashar,” one man told CNN, while another said that “all Syrians without exception want peace and want Bashar Assad.”
In the Golan Heights thousands of Syrians gathered to mourn the late president after failing in their attempt to cross the border on Monday to attend the funeral. Tuesday, 13 June, 2000 Golan Syrians bid farewell The Syrians who live on Israeli-controlled land have been desperate to cross the border to attend President Assad’s funeral. But the border has never been open and on Monday even those with special permission were not allowed through. The Syrians living in the Golan Heights, which was captured by Israel from Syria in 1967, saw President Assad as the embodiment of the nation they still call home.
Elite members of Syria’s military carried the coffin of late President Hafez Assad through the streets of Damascus on Tuesday at the biggest funeral in Syria’s modern history. Thousands of mourners watched the passing of the coffin draped with the Syrian flag. Many broke into a traditional Muslim funeral chant: “There is no God but God.” Some collapsed in the streets, overcome either by the heat or by emotion.
Syrian People Mourns Hafez al Assad was the most dominant figure in Middle East politics for three tumultuous decades Members of parliament wept openly at news of Assad’s death at the age of 69. A 40-day period of mourning was declared and a senior official said the funeral would be on Tuesday. The overwhelming majority of Syrians have known no other leader. Shops closed and residents of the capital hung black banners from apartment balconies. However, mourners on the streets have voiced support for Bashar, chanting “With our souls and blood we follow Bashar”.
Earlier Saturday in Damascus, the city exploded in shouts, honks and tears as hundreds of bereaved Syrians poured out into the streets to mourn Assad’s death. June 11 — Thousands of buses packed with Syrian workers began rolling into Damascus Saturday as news of the death of Hafez Assad began trickling into Lebanon. At least one man fainted, overcome by emotion. Young men, many of them wearing black with black bands on their foreheads, circled the streets leading up to the presidential palace and Assad’s private residence. As police looked on, the crowd cried “Allahu Akbar!” or God is great, and shouted slogans expressing support for Bashar Assad.
“With our souls, with our blood, we will protect you, oh Bashar,” the crowd chanted. The government declared a 40-day mourning period. Syria’s red-black-and-white flags were lowered to half-staff. Stores were quickly shuttered. Secondary school exams were postponed until next week. Loud speakers at government buildings, hotels and other establishments resounded with verses from the Koran, Islam’s holy book, in the traditional Islamic way of mourning. “I never thought I would see another leader. I thought he was immortal,” said Mohammed Kurdi, a 30-year-old taxi driver. Today, shopkeepers hung black-bordered portraits of Hafez al Assad on shuttered store fronts. Most women in the streets were dressed in black, and verses from the Islamic holy book, the Koran, were being played at low volume through loudspeakers in government offices and hotels. Syria’s red, black and white flags were flying at half-staff. Secondary school exams, scheduled for this weekend, were postponed until next week. “Our beloved president has left us. There are no words to describe my sorrow,” said Bassem Soudan, a university student who had taken off his shirt and taped a picture of Assad on his chest. A crowd of people gathered outside the presidential palace in Damascus, crying and chanting Bashar’s name in support. “With our souls, with our blood, we will protect you, O Bashar,” the crowd said. Syria’s red-black-and-white flags were lowered to half-staff. Stores closed and secondary school exams scheduled this weekend were postponed until next week. Loudspeakers at government buildings, hotels and other establishments resounded with verses from the Koran, Islam’s holy book.
The Associated Press
Standing in a bus station in Beirut along with another 75 Syrian workers, Selim Daba was one of many getting ready for the three-hour trip to Damascus. “All my friends will be going back,” said Daba, a 32-year-old handyman, who lives in Beirut and regularly sends money to his wife and two children in Syria. As he flipped through his wallet, he showed pictures of the 69-year-old leader. “This is my father. This is who I love,” he said
Information minister: Syria clings to national principles Syria’s Information Minister Adnan Omran made a speech at the council of the Arab information ministers which on Wednesday started its 33 rd session in Cairo with the participation of 14 Arab ministers of information. Omran said that among other things: “Our great leader (the late President Assad) was of a strong opinion that Syria’s security and progress are an integral part of those of the Arab nation.” He added that according to the late president who devoted his life working in defense of firm national principles, the dignity of Syria is part of the dignity of the Arabs. He added as saying: ” It is my duty to appease brothers ( Arab brothers) that the Syrians will to defend rights and lands is firm and unshakable, and their will to continue protecting the nation’s security and to confronting challenges will remain unwavering thanks to recent decisions made by the country’s different constitutional establishments to elect Lt. Gen. Bashar Assad a new leader of the party and the State,. Minister Omran said describing the traits of Bashar al-Assad: ”
Since the very beginning, the new leader has reiterated full abidance by firm national principles, by the nation’s values, by maintaining fraternal ties among the Arabs and by reactivating unceasing efforts to sustain a joint Arab action.” He added that “the feelings of sympathy and condolences offered by leaders of Arab countries over the loss of our President as well as your sympathetic expression with us will enhance our will to go on following the right and firm drive run by our late great leader.” He said: ” we are meeting today amidst critical and very grave regional and international changes that may have impact on the future of our homeland and nation. All-out and collective efforts must unceasingly be exerted by all of us to revive the national feelings, to strengthen the position and the role of the Arab nation, to ensure successes in the battles of the comprehensive socio- economic development and to confront all forms of challenges manifested through the perpetuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the Golan and parts of Lebanon and the embargo imposed on some Arab states.” He added ” During the meeting of the Arab leaders recently held in Cairo, the Arab nation has reiterated its strategic option to achieve a just and comprehensive ME peace based on the implementation of UN international legitimacy resolutions, on Israel’s pullout from all occupied Arab territories and the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people to self determination, to an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and to the return back of the Palestinian refugees to their native homeland of Palestine. Omran continued:” There is no doubt that clinging fast to this unified stand and supporting the national resistance, which had attained historic victory in Lebanon, are the bases of confronting successive Israeli governments policy of maneuvering, intransigence and suppression against our people in Palestine and the Golan.” He stressed that “the great and accelerating developments in the fields of information and telecommunications which we witness at the beginning of the new century and the spread of globalization phenomenon in its cultural and information dimensions, will leave deep and big reflects on all societies and states. This requires that we have to adopt unified and coordinated strategies and the blueprints to face these development. And despite that we have taken positive steps at the regional and pan- Arab levels in consolidating our national information structures, we still much work to do at all levels in order to convey our information and cultural message,” the minister said. The participants in the meeting observed a one- minute silence in memory of the late President Hafez al-Assad. At the opening session the Arab ministers stressed in their speeches that the late President al-Assad is a great loss for Syria and the entire region, due to the late President’s brave and wise stances in defending the Arab nation’s dignity and rights.” The speakers expressed their total confidence in the continuity of Syria’s main role under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Dr. Bashar Assad. In their speeches the Arab information ministers called for backing Syria, wishing all success to Bashar al-Assad in his national responsibility.
Among the foreign dignitaries who were expected at the funeral were nine heads of State:
French President Jacques Chirac
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Iranian President Mohamad Khatami
Jordan’s King Abdullah II
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Lebanon’s President Emile Lahoud
The Emir of Kuwait, Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah
President Umar al-Bashir of Sudan
Japan’s Foreign Minister Yohei Kono
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Canadian External Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma
Austria’s President of the National Assembly Heinz Fischer
The Vatican’s “foreign minister” Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran
Lebanese President Lahoud and Prime Minister Hoss
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
Iranian President Khatami
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
French President Chirac
US Secretary of State Albright
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson
UK Foreign Secretary Cook
EU leader Romano Prodi
Former Russian Prime Minister Primakov
Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Tauran
Al-Fahoum explained that Arafat will lead a delegation including the
chairman of the PLO political department Farouk al-Qaddoumi, the secretary of the executive committee of the PLO Mahmoud Abbas and other senior high ranking Syrian officials. In Baghdad, it was also announced on Sunday that Iraq’s vice President Taha Muhey eddine Marouf will represent his country to the funeral of President Assad.London said on Sunday that the British foreign office minister Robin Cook will take part in the funeral ceremony of the late President. This was expressed by a source at the British foreign ministry and confirmed by the British TV and radio station BBC news on Sunday evening.
There was a significant police presence but the streets of Damascus remained calm. State broadcasting carried continuous readings from the Koran after the announcement. Arab and foreign delegations arrived in Damascus to take part in Assad’s funeral, listing Heads of states and Arab and foreign delegations on Monday arrived in Damascus to take part in President Hafez al-Assad’s funeral and to express their condolences on the death of President Assad. Arab and foreign leaders who arrived in Damascus on Monday were Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Saudi crown prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, President of Malta and members of the accompanying delegation, Somalia Prime Minister Omar Ghaleb and members of the accompanying delegation, the ambassador at the foreign ministry in Ghana, Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazhir Bhuto, foreign minister in South Africa, the speaker of parliament in Algeria ( Today ” Tuesday,” Algeria President Abdul Aziz Butaflika arrived in Damascus to offer condolences), the ambassador at the Thailand’s foreign ministry, the speaker of the Moroccan parliament and members of the accompanying delegation, China’s deputy prime minister Ismael Ahmad, the speaker of parliament in Mauritania Sheikh Sayed Ahmad, Cyprus former speaker of parliament Vassos Lyssarides, the EU ME peace process coordinator Miguel Angel Moratinos, Gambia’s foreign minister Muhammad Amin Sadati and members of the accompanying delegation, Iraq’s vice President Taha Muhei eddine Marouf and members of the accompanying delegation, Spanish deputy prime minister, Portugal’s deputy prime minister, minister of development and human resources in India, a representative for the president ofChile; Mr. Iqbal Rida, the director of the special office of the UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikha Husneiyah Wajed, Norway’s foreign minister, the British foreign minister Robin Cook, and President of the Republic of Bulgaria.
Also arrived in Damascus on Monday evening to attend the President’s funeral was a people’s delegation including various social strata of the Palestinian Arabs of 1948 led by Azmi Beshara to offer condolences on the death of the late president. In an arrival statement to SANA’s correspondent at Quneitra Beshara said that ” the people’s delegation expresses unity of Arab national solidarity and to offer condolences to our brothers in Syria on the demise of the great leader Hafez al-Assad,” expressing GREAT PRIDE over Syria’s STEADFASTNESS in the face of pressures. Also arrived in Damascus on Monday to attend the President’s funeral were the foreign minister of Azerbaijan, the speaker of the Austrian parliament, Speaker of the Yugoslavia’s parliament, the secretary general of the Arab League Ismat Abdul Meguid, the President of the republic of Armenia, and many other several Arab and foreign delegations.
Henry Kissinger, who said the following about Bashar Assad’s father President Hafez Assad of Syria. “Assad never lost his aplomb. He negotiated daringly and tenaciously like a riverboat gambler to make sure that he exacted the last sliver of available concessions.
I once told him that I had seen negotiators who deliberately moved themselves to the edge of a precipice to show that they had no further margin of maneuver. I had even known negotiators who put one foot over the edge, in effect threatening their own suicide. He was the only one who would actually jump off the precipice, hoping that on his way down he could break his fall by grabbing a tree he knew to be there. Assad beamed.”
HAFEZ AL ASSAD
(1930-2000) President of Syria 1971-2000.
While accusations against Assad have been manifold, few have accused him of lack of shrewdness, political cleverness, intelligence and charisma. He has been one of the best informed, and hardest working politicians in the Middle East. He was famous for his long sessions and working days — 18 hours a day — as well as self-deprecating humour.
Henry Kissinger (who, visiting in 1973, was the first American foreign minister in Syria in 20 years) noted:
His tactic was to open with a statement of the most extreme position to test what the traffic would bear. He might then allow himself to be driven back to the attainable, fighting a dogged rear-guard action that made clear that concessions could be exacted only at a heavy price and that discouraged excessive expectations of them.
Assad was well-known for a modest life style, without much excess. He lived in a normal villa in a residential neighbourhood in Damascus.
But around him, there were several people who got rich thanks to nepotism in the Syrian society.
HAFEZ AL ASSAD
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 June 2000
President Hafez al-Assad, master of Syria since 1979, was a towering figure of Arab politics, respected and feared in his own country and throughout the Middle East. His death, at 69, marks the end of an era.
His achievements were threefold: he gave Syria years of much-needed stability; he turned his relatively small country into a major regional player whose views could not be ignored; and, with patient consistency, he fought to prevent Israel from imposing its will on the Arab world.
In the end he came to terms with the fact of Israel’s existence, and was persuaded to open negotiations for a permanent peace settlement. But his dream of containing the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders, and of checking the spread of its regional influence by an Arab-Israeli balance of power, was not realised.
Assad’s long rule was all the more remarkable in that he was not born a Sunni Muslim, the orthodox mainstream of Islam in Syria. His family were Alawites, a small, heterodox community. Politics was his life-long interest. As a schoolboy, he joined the pan-Arab socialist Baath party, and rose to be a student leader. He joined the air force and became a conspirator, plotting with a small group of officers to overthrow the government, a task accomplished in 1963.
In the next seven years, Assad clawed his way up the ladder until he emerged as sole leader in 1970. His revolution turned Syria’s social and political structures upside down. The Alawites, although no more than 12% of the population, came to occupy plum positions in every sector of life.
Externally, the main landmarks of Assad’s life had to do with the struggle against Israel. As a young and inexperienced defence minister in the 1967 war, he presided over the loss of the Golan Heights. In 1970 he sent tanks into Jordan to help the Palestinians against King Hussein, but had to beat a humiliating retreat when Israel threatened to intervene. In 1973 he secretly planned the October war with Egypt’s Anwar al-Sadat, but Israel turned the tables on them both, and by defeating Egypt took it out of the Arab military equation.
When the hardline Menachem Begin came to power in Israel in 1977, Assad faced a militant Likud determined to create a “greater Israel”. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon. Rallying his allies, Assad fought back. Israel’s adventure turned into a debacle. From Syria’s point of view, it was Assad’s finest hour.
Assad had an ally of sorts in the Soviet Union. But the Soviets were reluctant to give their Arab allies the means to recover their lost territories by force, still less to defeat Israel in all-out war. So Assad never entered fully into the Soviet orbit. Once the Soviet empire faltered, he was quick to grasp that a major prop of his world was gone. By 1987 he was busy making overtures to Washington.
The destruction of Iraq in the Gulf war further weakened Syria’s strategic position. Assad recognised that Iraq’s aggression was a serious threat to Syria’s interests. So Assad joined the American-led coalition and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. But he did not welcome the war. As an Arab patriot, he deplored the destruction of Iraq, the depletion of Arab financial assets, the ever-greater influence of the United States, and the loss of Arab independence. Israel’s position became unassailable.
Such was the impetus for the new phase of Middle East peace-making launched in October 1991. Assad had long argued that peace with Israel was not worth having unless it was comprehensive, involving an Israeli retreat on all fronts. He opposed separate deals, which he felt divided the Arab camp. It was with great hesitation that he fell in with the formula of separate tracks, which was to Israel’s advantage. The September 1993 Israeli accord with Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which put an end to the intifada in the occupied territories without giving the Palestinians any substantial gains, was another setback. A year later, to Assad’s dismay, Jordan concluded a peace treaty with Israel.
These agreements brought the Palestinians and Jordan into Israel’s sphere of influence – a development Assad had struggled for years to prevent. But Assad was anxious to keep open his lines to Washington. To his great disappointment, the Clinton administration was to prove one of the most pro-Israeli in US history. As a result, Syria’s peace negotiations with Israel made slow progress. He offered Israel “full peace for full withdrawal”, making clear that a normalisation of relations could take place only once Israel had committed itself to a full withdrawal from the Golan and southern Lebanon.
Assad displayed two principal traits. The first was an exceptional degree of political foresight; the second was a foxy fighting instinct when driven to the wall, as he was by the Muslim Brothers at Hama in 1982 or by the Israelis in Lebanon a year later. On both occasions, he proved he could fight as dirty as anyone.
Hafez al-Assad, politician, born October 6, 1930; died June 10, 2000