"Reformist" dictators seem to be the latest (repulsive) fad.
From the U.K.'s Telegraph:
Syria's President Assad: 'I live a normal life - it's why I'm popular'
Three thousand demonstrators have died fighting his rule, but - in an exclusive interview - Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, tells Andrew Gilligan he will not go the way of Gaddafi
When you go to see an Arab ruler, you expect vast, over-the-top palaces, battalions of guards, ring after ring of security checks and massive, deadening protocol. You expect to wait hours in return for a few stilted minutes in a gilded reception room, surrounded by officials, flunkies and state TV cameras. You expect a monologue, not a conversation. Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, was quite different.
The young woman who arranged the meeting picked me up in her own car. We drove for 10 minutes, then turned along what looked like a little-used side road through the bushes. There was no visible security, not even a gate, just a man dressed like a janitor, standing by a hut. We drove straight up to a single-storey building the size of a largeish suburban bungalow. The president was waiting in the hall to meet us.
We sat, just the three of us, on leather sofas in Assad’s small study. The president was wearing jeans. It was Friday, the main protest day in Syria: the first Friday since the death of Colonel Gaddafi had sunk in. But the man at the centre of it all, the man they wanted to destroy, looked pretty relaxed.
He thought the protests were diminishing. After they started, in March, “we didn’t go down the road of stubborn government. Six days after [the protests began] I commenced reform. People were sceptical that the reforms were an opiate for the people, but when we started announcing the reforms, the problems started decreasing... This is when the tide started to turn. This is when people started supporting the government... [but] being in the middle is very difficult when you have this strong polarisation.”
The problems were not mainly political, he thought. “It’s about the whole of society, the development of society. Different problems have erupted as one crisis. We adopted liberal economics. To open your economy without preparing yourself, you open up gaps between the social strata. If you do not get the right economic model, you cannot get past the problem.”
For Assad’s critics – who have expanded steadily over the last seven months to include not just the protesters, but Britain, France, the US, the United Nations and now the Arab League – these statements are simply delusional. “He has been talking about reform ever since he came to office [in 2000], and nothing serious ever happens,” said one of the protest leaders from the key opposition city of Homs. “Killing people is not an act of reform. We aren’t calling for economic or even political reform under Assad, but for the departure of this bloodstained president and free elections.”
The opposition appears, after a dip, to have been energised by Gaddafi’s demise. The death toll on Friday, they say, of 40, was the highest since April. Three thousand demonstrators have been killed by Assad’s security forces since March, according to the UN, a figure that includes 187 children. Yesterday, it was reported, the Syrian army was shelling civilian areas of Homs [...]
Assad lives in a relatively small house in a normal – albeit guarded – street. He believes that his modest lifestyle is another component of his appeal. “There is a legitimacy according to elections and there is popular legitimacy,” he said. “If you do not have popular legitimacy, whether you are elected or not you will be removed – look at all the coups we had.
“The first component of popular legitimacy is your personal life. It is very important how you live. I live a normal life. I drive my own car, we have neighbours, I take my kids to school. That’s why I am popular. It is very important to live this way – that is the Syrian style.”
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