Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Bashar Al Assad going after his cousin: A rare split in tightly knit ruling Alawite clan of Syria

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Bashar Al Assad, President of Syria | Source: kremlin.ru via Wikimedia

Syria is ruled by the Al Assad family since 1971 till date. Hafez Al-Assad, the father of the current ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad assumed power through a coup in 1970 and remained in power till he died on 10th June 2000. He was succeeded by his son Bashar al-Assad. The Al Assad family belongs to a minority Shia sect called Alawite which constitutes about 10 to 15 percent of the total population of Syria.

The Alawites had traditionally held most of the officer class positions in the military under the French Mandate Syria during the 1930s and 1940s. However it was the regime of Hafez that gave Alawites a disproportionate share in the country’s financial and economic structure as well as the military due to ultra-loyalty to the regime.

It was, however, the death of Hafez, which brought to light the complex equation between the strongly knit Alawite minority influence in Syria’s financial and military interests and the ruling Assad family. Mohammad Makhlouf, father of Rami Makhlouf, Syria’s richest man, and his sister Anissa, widow of Hafiz Al Assad had at that time ensured that the transfer of power to Bashar al-Assad went on smoothly.

Bashar al-Assad had to grapple with the mass movement dubbed Arab Spring in 2011 when people rose against the authoritarian rule of Bashar Al Assad and the preferential treatment received by the Alawites in the regime. The Arab spring later took the form of a civil war which is still raging in parts of Syria. Throughout this difficult period Alawite community stood solidly behind Bashar Al Assad. There was no bigger backer of Bashar Al Assad during all the ups and down, than his cousin and the richest man of Syria Rami Makhlouf.

However for the first time the absolute support for Bashar Al Assad in the tightly knit Alawite community seems to be shaking. In a recent Facebook video, Rami Makhlouf, is seen making allegations that the Syrian regime of Bashar has been going after him and his company assets because he raised voice for Alawite families which lost members while serving the regime, but were left to fend for themselves. There have been unconfirmed reports that Rami has been under house arrest since last summer.

Multiple reasons have been cited for the Assad governments’ sudden outburst against Rami. Some experts suggest it is because of Rami’s immense wealth, which in turn makes him a possible rival to Bashar, or the lavish lifestyle of the Makhlouf’s, as evidenced by Rami’s son Mohammad who was seen boasting about their wealth and showing off pictures of his private jet to multiple newspapers around the world. Whatever be the reason behind the regime going after Rami, it is quite evident that they are under severe pressure to churn out cash to revive the dwindling currency. While his son might have dented his family’s rather away from limelight public image with his public show-off stunts, it appears that Rami himself has not been up to the mark in rolling out enough credit for the Assad regime.

The ongoing saga of Rami Makhlouf brings to light the complex relationship between the Assad regime and the dominant Alawite minority, indicating a clear rift between them. A former Syrian diplomat who defected from the Syrian Embassy in Washington in 2012 said “It’s very big. Rami was in the inner circle from day one of Bashar’s rule. He’s built into the regime. To take him out would be like a divorce.”

It will be interesting to see whether the Alawite community will continue to back Bashar Al Assad or Rami Makhlouf will be able to sway a significant section of the community to take a stand against Bashar Al Assad. Watch this space for further updates

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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