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Inheriting the throne: The issue of succession in Syria

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  1. Introduction
  2. Bashar rose to power thanks to a legitimacy of filiation
    1. Bashar made his debut on the political scene thanks to his father
    2. How did Bashar take office? Mechanisms and problems
  3. Bashar's challenge: How to legitimate his power? Proving his legitimacy of competence
    1. Challenges for a successor to get political legitimacy
    2. Once in office, he tried to prove his legitimacy of competence through his policies
  4. Conclusion

In July 2000, Bashar al-Assad succeeded to his father, Hafiz al-Assad, as the head of Syrian Republic. Immediately, this succession raises questions about its legitimacy. In fact, Syria is not a monarchy but a Republic; as a consequence, it could seem inappropriate and even illegitimate/illegal than the political power passed from father to son, as if it were hereditary. In this essay, we will discuss Bashar's legitimacy, from its beginning before he rose to power, to the time he was (and still is) in office. We will try to see from where this ?legitimacy? (if he has one) comes, and whether it has evolved. First and foremost, we must go back on the definition of legitimacy.

Legitimacy is an abstract political concept which is at the basis of political power. It means that people who are ruled by the political power recognize it the right to do so, and agree to obey it. If people accept this subjection, it is because they feel they need an ?above authority? to live together (La Boétie had given a well-accurate explanation in his Discourse of voluntary servitude (1576)). Therefore, legitimacy is the condition for a regime's permanence. In theory, a power should not legitimate itself; however, a political power has violent means at its disposal to make people accept it, one way or another. It exists a process of legitimization by which politicians make sure people would acquiesce, or even subscribe to its demands (Etienne Bourgeois and Jean Nizet (1995)).

[...] This event has the consequence of marginalizing the issue of succession in Syria for a long time. Yet, during the 1990's, some signals let Syrians and commentators think that Basil, Hafiz's eldest son, was the chosen son to take over from his father. However, after Basil's death in 1994, it became quite clear that Bashar would be his heir apparent. Contrary to Basil who had pursued a military career, Bashar has chosen to study medicine; when his brother died, he was studying in the United Kingdom. [...]

[...] Though Syria has immediately offered to help the US in their on terror?, it was accused simultaneously of financing and offering refuge to terrorist organizations (such as Hamas, Hezbollah). Moreover, despite the animosity towards the Iraqi regime, Syria staunchly opposed the US invasion in Iraq. As a consequence, the US broadened their economic, diplomatic and cultural sanctions against Syria and in December 2003, President Bush signed the Syrian accountability act and the Lebanese restoration act, which will accelerate the Syrian withdraw from Lebanon. [...]

[...] Enthusiastic over the speeches of Bashar, the hope in change he conveyed, a broad stratum of intellectuals and businessmen launched forums throughout Syria to claim for openness and democracy. For the first time since thirty years, they felt they would be listened; they viewed Bashar's first speeches as a prelude to a long-change reform in the state. This idea of a Syrian civilian society has emerged through the organization of forums (we could cited that of Riyad Sayf, a businessman and backbencher); intellectuals signed petitions claimed for establishing a civil society, lawyers did the same for Syria to become a law-abiding State; associations protecting human rights mushroomed; Riyad Sayf attempted to create a new party, the ?Social Peace Party?, outside the National Progressive Front and expressed sharp criticism against the government during the People's Assembly discussions; even the Muslim Brotherhood published a draft and try to establish a dialogue with the government. [...]

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