Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mocked the failures of the Arab Spring in a defiant speech at his swearing in ceremony for a third term in office today. President Assad signaled his intent to serve the full seven-year term.
After claiming 88.7 percent of the vote in last month’s election, Assad vowed to crush his opponents. His election victory was dismissed by opponents as illegitimate since Syrian elections are typically rigged and the country's civil war has displaced more than 9.5 million from their homes.
According to reports, Assad walked down a red carpet and received the adulation of a cheering crowd at a palace overlooking Damascus today. He declared the “death” of the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the Middle East over three years ago.
“Syrians, three years and four months … have passed since some cried ‘freedom.’ They wanted a revolution, but you have been the real revolutionaries. I congratulate you for your revolution and for your victory.
Those who lost their way can now see clearly … the monstrous faces have been unveiled, the mask of freedom and the revolution has fallen. Soon we will see that the Arab, regional and western states that supported terrorism will pay a high price. We are people who become more defiant under pressure and who face attempts to humiliate us with more pride, dignity and self-confidence.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Assad refused to characterize the conflict as a civil war and continued to assert that the war is backed and supported by foreign powers.
The resignation of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in May closed the door on possible continued negotiations between the government and the opposition. Mr. Brahimi, who has brokered many difficult conflicts, said, “I go with a heavy heart because so little was achieved. I once again, humbly apologize to the Syrian people.”
As the Monitor reported in June, Assad’s election shows the intractable nature of the conflict.
“[The election] signals to Syrians and the rest of the world that he is not a dictator fighting for his life and that of his regime against a popular opposition, but the elected leader of a country battling foreign-backed “terrorists.” … It means that the conflict is likely to endure for many more years. Assad will feel vindicated by his reelection and will likely reject any proposed meaningful negotiations with the opposition.”
While Assad continues to talk tough, the regional dimensions of the war have grown more complicated with the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq grabbing Western attention while Assad's regime has retaken key towns over the past year.
Casualty and refugee counts continue to rise with estimates of at least 170,000 deaths and with the UN reporting over 2.8 million registered refugees and about 6.5 million Syrians internally displaced. Recent photos show the continued human toll of the conflict with young children playing and swimming in craters created by bombs in Aleppo.
The UN called on European nations to do more to help ease the refugee crisis. "The trend is obvious now, they're moving beyond the neighboring countries. The neighboring countries have reached saturation point. And many Syrians are now seeking refuge in Europe and we're asking Europe to do more," Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, told Reuters.