‘Al Baath and Al Shabbiha’ The Two Most Hated Nouns in Syria

Every serious analysis of the Syrian situation I read these days does have a reference to the two most dreaded words in Syria “Al Baath and Al Shabbiha”. In my view these are the twin evils of Damascus.

Al Baath means in Arabic the rebirth or the renaissance. This is the original meaning. The new meaning for Al Baath, thanks to Al Assad Clan of Syria is synonymous with the Terror. It is a terrorist political party of thugs and murderers.

In the 1950s the Baath Party in Syria and Iraq became popular because they offered slogans of unity, liberty, and the liberation of the Arab people from foreign domination. As it happened the Baath became violent and repressive and produced dictatorial and unstable leaders such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al Assad the father of Bashar al Assad of Syria. Both men were ruthless in dealing with their opponents.

The promise of liberating the Arab man from foreign domination was replaced by tyranny, torture and death. The Baath was a violent ideology that thrives on flogging empty slogans to the Arab street, but nothing more. It became a corrupt, single party state that does not tolerate any opposition or dissent. The Baathist Syrian regime has been a Police State since 1970.

Just one example illustrates the sick mentality of the Baathist thinking. In 1970 Nureddin Al-Atassi a former Pre-Baath President was imprisoned by Hafez al-Assad. Nureddin spent 22 years in a small cell in al Mazza prison without any charge or trial. He had been denied medical treatment for cancer which killed him in December 1992.

Saddam Hussein brought ruin and destruction to Iraq. Bashar and his younger brother Maher are now doing the same to Syria. Clause 8 of the Syrian Constitution states that the Baath is the sole ruling party of Syria. The opposition groups are demanding the immediate abrogation of this Clause from the Constitution. The regime is refusing to budge, so for the time being the Syrian people are stuck with the abhorrent al-Baath Party ruling over them with an iron fist.

Al Shabbiha: Since the middle of March 2011 over 2200 unarmed civilians have been killed by the Syrian security forces and the Para-military groups working on behalf of the ruling al-Assad family. These Para-militaries are called “Shabbiha”.

The term Shabbiha means in Arabic “ghostlike” or “Phantoms” with evil intentions. In reality they are groups of sinister thugs who appear from nowhere like ghosts and proceed to kill and maim demonstrators. Al Shabbiha direct their violence against the protest movement aided and abetted by the Syrian security forces. The Shabbiha operate a criminal network throughout Syrian coastal regions and specialise in smuggling, blackmail, robbery and prostitution. Members are drawn from the Pro-Bashar al-Assad Alawite Sect which is regime’s loyalists. The senior leaders of the Shabbiha are said to be first cousins of Assad.

According to a recent study by the Henry Jackson Society (a London based Think Tank) the extent to which the militia are taking orders from Assad is unclear. It is also unclear whether they seek to capitalise on civil unrest and consolidate their criminal network through intimidation.

We have seen on Aljazeera and other networks footage of al Shabbiha in action against helpless protesters, old men and women. They are a bunch of criminal thugs and are not held accountable for their criminal activities because they are doing the dirty work on behalf of the Bashar al Assad’s clan.

What the West can do?

The Syrian people are not demanding direct military action against the regime. At the moment, they don’t want external intervention. This may change however, if the regime continues with its unprecedented brutality against its own people. In the immediate term the Syrian people demand a stronger unambiguous stance by the Western democracies to impose tougher sanctions against the regime such as the freezing of assets, the severing of diplomatic relations with Syria and a unanimous declaration by the US, the EU and the UN that the regime is illegitimate and must go. In the eyes of most Syrians, the regime has already lost its legitimacy. President Obama’s recent call for Bashar al Assad to step aside is welcome but insufficient unless backed by concrete action.

What the Arabs can do?

The Arab League which has remained embarrassingly silent must show its hand and condemn the regime’s murderous strategy and suspend its membership from the League. The Arab States must follow the example of Saudi Arabia and Qatar by issuing strongly worded condemnation of the Syrian regime and withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus.

A regime that wages a war against its own people does not deserve to survive.

Nehad Ismail
Nehad Ismail is a writer and broadcaster, who writes about issues related to the Middle East from his home in London.