Al-Asad, il Mac e il PC

Andrew Gilligan è il giornalista del Telegraph britannico invitato dalle autorità siriane a intervistare il presidente Bashar al-Asad lo scorso 29 ottobre. Dei contenuti dell’intervista abbiamo già dato conto, ma troviamo interessante riproporvi qui di seguito le note a margine di Gilligan del suo incontro col raìs nel suo ufficio di Damasco.

When you go to see an Arab ruler, you expect vast, over-the-top palaces, battalions of guards, ring after ring of security checks and massive, deadening protocol. You expect to wait hours in return for a few stilted minutes in a gilded reception room, surrounded by officials, flunkies and state TV cameras. You expect a monologue, not a conversation. Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, was quite different.

The young woman who arranged the meeting picked me up in her own car. We drove for 10 minutes, then turned along what looked like a little-used side road through the bushes. There was no visible security, not even a gate, just a man dressed like a janitor, standing by a hut. We drove straight up to a single-storey building the size of a largeish suburban bungalow. The president was waiting in the hall to meet us.

We sat, just the three of us, on leather sofas in Assad’s small study. The president was wearing jeans. It was Friday, the main protest day in Syria: the first Friday since the death of Colonel Gaddafi had sunk in. But the man at the centre of it all, the man they wanted to destroy, looked pretty relaxed.

He thought the protests were diminishing. After they started, in March, “we didn’t go down the road of stubborn government. Six days after [the protests began] I commenced reform. People were sceptical that the reforms were an opiate for the people, but when we started announcing the reforms, the problems started decreasing… This is when the tide started to turn. This is when people started supporting the government… [but] being in the middle is very difficult when you have this strong polarisation.”

The problems were not mainly political, he thought. “It’s about the whole of society, the development of society. Different problems have erupted as one crisis. We adopted liberal economics. To open your economy without preparing yourself, you open up gaps between the social strata. If you do not get the right economic model, you cannot get past the problem.”

(…) His English is perfect — he lived for two years in London, where he met his wife. In conversation he was open, even at times frank. “Many mistakes,” he admitted, had been made by the security forces – though no one, it seems, has been brought to book for them. He could both make, and take, a joke. A former president of the Syrian Computer Society, he sometimes explained things in computer terms.

Comparing Syria’s leadership with that of a Western country, he said, was like comparing a Mac with a PC. “Both computers do the same job, but they don’t understand each other,” he said. “You need to translate. If you want to analyse me as the East, you cannot analyse me through the Western operating system, or culture. You have to translate according to my operating system, or culture.” That’s the inner nerd in you speaking, I said, and he laughed out loud. I can’t imagine too many other Arab leaders you could get away with calling a nerd.

Assad lives in a relatively small house in a normal – albeit guarded – street. He believes that his modest lifestyle is another component of his appeal. “There is a legitimacy according to elections and there is popular legitimacy,” he said. “If you do not have popular legitimacy, whether you are elected or not you will be removed – look at all the coups we had.

“The first component of popular legitimacy is your personal life. It is very important how you live. I live a normal life. I drive my own car, we have neighbours, I take my kids to school. That’s why I am popular. It is very important to live this way – that is the Syrian style.” (…).