The Re-election of Bashar Assad

June 09, 2021
Mgr Joseph Tobji

Reacting in the wake of the triumphant re-election of Bashar Assad as head of the Syrian state, the Maronite Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo sharply criticizes the attitude of Western democracies towards his country.

“Bashar Assad orchestrates a sham presidential election in Syria” or “A convincing victory and an important step to strengthen the stability of the country,” Whether the news emanates in Europe or in Russia, the official comments on the re-election of Bashar El-Assad on May 27, 2021, with 95.1% of the votes cast, is not lacking in contrast.

Abp. Joseph Tobji sweeps aside Western critics with a wave of the hand: for the Maronite Archbishop of Aleppo, “the first problem of the Syrian people is now that of surviving the famine caused precisely by the economic sanctions” of the West.

The Syrian prelate regrets the European strategy, aligned with the United States, regarding his country: “Those who impose sanctions are out of touch with Syria. The logic of the sanctions is to starve the people by thinking of diminishing the political consensus of the authorities and bringing down the government. Me, as a pastor, I see that people suffer from poverty, and it does not seem to me that their priority is speaking about democracy.” 

Contrary to what some countries in the West suggest, abstention would not play such a big role in the re-election of the Alawite head of state: "We saw a lot of people in front of the polling stations, with gatherings and parties in the streets and in the squares, in which not only militants close to the regime in place took part,” testifies Msgr. Tobji.

And to add, cum grano salis, in the direction of the Western democracies: “It is certain that a part of the potential voters did not go to vote, but the growth of abstention from the elections seems to me to be a global phenomenon, which is taking place in many countries which have a political culture different from ours.”

The Maronite prelate of Aleppo nonetheless remains clear about the scourge of corruption which strikes, here as elsewhere, his country: “it is a problem rooted in our history,” he admits, “and which is aggravated because of the war.”

“Sanctions also contribute, in their own way, to this phenomenon. Those who have money and hold positions of influence benefit. It's like a vicious cycle: corruption fuels poverty, and poverty fuels corruption, devouring what few resources are left. Laws are being developed to stem this corruption, but it is not a problem that can be solved overnight.”

Archbishop Tobji hopes that a new day will dawn after Assad's re-election, and sees some encouraging signs: the low prevalence of Covid-19 among the population - a situation he describes as “miraculous” - as well as the halt to the massive exodus of Christians abroad, which has had a heavy impact on the local Church in recent years.