I remember that May afternoon like it was yesterday. We had just finished eating makloube at my uncle’s home. Makloube translates to “flipped over” in English. The food itself—consisting of meat, rice pilaf, and eggplants—is layered and cooked then served upside down. It was my aunt’s specialty.
After my stomach was well satisfied, I suddenly had an epiphany: the Syrian Arab Republic was holding a referendum to determine the approval rate of the incumbent President Bashar Al-Assad, and for the first time in my life, I was eligible to vote.
After an hour of deliberation, I finally convinced my father to take me to an election center. My uncle informed us that the nearest ballot hall was located at the Karen Jeppe Secondary School in the predominantly Armenian Meedan neighborhood; the school where I endured most of my suspensions and beatings. Today, Meedan (referred to by Armenians as Nor Kyough) is the favorite destination for the mortar bombs launched by the opposition.
Even though my options were limited to a YES or NO vote in favor or against the incumbent president, I was excited. When we finally arrived to the school, I realized that there was no voting booth. I was supposed to cast my vote while two mukhabarat intelligence officers stood beside me.
When I got my hands on the ballot sheet I paused and looked up towards the officers. They were courteous. They smiled at me in a manner that ensured that I made the “right” decision. And indeed I did; on that day, I contributed to the 97 percent approval rate of President Assad.
Of course, a lot has changed in Syria since the 2007 “elections.” Between the barrel bombs of the regime and the mortar bombs of the opposition, the country has become a mere shadow of its former self. Half of Syria’s population has been displaced internally or as refugees. And now, for the first time in a very long time, the country is holding elections where more than one candidate is running for the presidency.
Certainly the outcome of the June 3, 2014 Syrian elections is not in doubt; barring a miracle, President Assad will start a third term as the head of the state. But while western governments and the mainstream media would like us to believe that the election is a farce, the reality is otherwise.
In the past several days, millions of Syrian refugees and compatriots have submitted their absentee ballots at more than 40 Syrian embassies around the world, including in Lebanon, Armenia, Jordan, Russia, and elsewhere. According to most reports, the vast majority of the Syrians who have cast their absentee ballots have voted for President Assad.
The mainstream media has provided numerous explanations for the massive turnout. The BBC concluded that Syrians are voting for the incumbent president out of fear. In fact, in the case of Lebanon, some sources have even suggested that Assad’s ally, Hezbollah, has threatened Syrians and forced them to vote.
Other sources have asserted that the election is a farce because the other two candidates, Maher Hajjar and Hassan Al-Nouri did not have the proper means to campaign. And still, others have implied that the aforementioned candidates are mere puppets of the Assad regime.
The Lebanese news agency, Future TV, notorious for its anti-Assad rhetoric, questioned the logic of the Syrians who were voting for the incumbent president. The Future TV reporter asked a Syrian man wearing a Thawb—the traditional Arabian gown—“Why are you voting for the same regime? In the same fashion?”
The man from Aleppo replied, “The regime did not force us to leave our country. The terrorists did.” Future TV concluded its report by labeling the upcoming elections as, “Entrenched in Blood: the Tragedy of Democracy.”
Of course, holding elections while the country is embroiled in a destructive war is less than ideal. More importantly, the legitimacy and allegiance of the two presidential contenders, Hajjar and Al-Nouri, is subject to scrutiny. However, on the political front, the 2014 Syrian Presidential Election represents a step forward; it certainly is a step ahead of the 2007 referendum that I was a part of.
In 2007, Syria was a totalitarian state. A revolution was bound to happen. Since March 2011, the regime and the opposition have been guilty of spilling Syrian blood, destroying homes and creating a refugee crisis. But if at the beginning of the uprising the Syrian people were able to associate themselves with the demonstrators who were demanding democracy, freedom and reform, that is not the case today.
In the past three years, President Assad’s military strategy and political resilience has ensured his survival longer than anyone could have anticipated. And by surviving the worse, Assad has managed to make a makloube out of the Syrian revolution, turning it upside down. Of course, President Assad cannot take all the credit for this turn of events. The opposition has played a significant role.
When in April 2013, Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition forces, decided to resign from his post, it was clear that the opposition in Syria was in shambles. The lack of unity within the ranks of the opposition and the resilience of President Assad, have led us to where we are now.
Today, the opposition has no identity and zero credibility. The moment foreign fighters emerged in the country was the moment the Syrian Revolution ceased to exist. After all, it is inconceivable that foreign fighters from 80 different countries are fighting to bring democracy to the Syrian people. More importantly, this is one of the reasons why the opposition is rapidly losing its grassroots support.
President Assad’s imminent victory in the June 3, 2014 Syrian Presidential Election, is merely a reflection of the current reality in Syria. The Syrians will elect President Assad, not because they are afraid, but because they already know what to expect from his regime, whereas the opposition, with all of its factions, remains a dark mystery.
In fact, whether the western governments like it or not, in today’s circumstances, President Assad would win any free and fair election that takes place in Syria. And after all, that’s what Democracy is all about, right? After three years of destruction, the Syrian people will choose peace and security in exchange for their silent obedience. And no one has the right to blame them.
Moreover, Assad’s victory in the upcoming elections will be a resounding defeat for the Western rhetoric. Assad might not have won the battle on the ground, but for now, he has won the propaganda war.