Syria is emerging as a volatile focal point of a region in flux, with the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, recalcitrant in dismissing what Reuters calls “rising demands for fundamental reform.” Though well-known for boasting to foreign media of supposedly near-universal popularity of his Baath Party regime, the president has become the latest object of the Middle East’s political disquiet.
Syria, repressed under a program of emergency martial law since 1963, stands out even among other totalitarian police states in the region. Justified by what the state characterizes as an ongoing state of war with Israel, the people of Syria are subjected to some of the world’s most oppressive measures, aimed at blotting out all political dissent. The security apparatus of the country is noted for its brutality, fortifying the single-party state by imprisoning anyone critical of it.
On Wednesday, March 23, following the governments shutdown of electricity and phone lines, Syrian security forces fired on and killed no less than six protestors gathered at a mosque in the south of the country. In less than a week the Syrian state has murdered ten civilians, attacking and detaining many others as the country’s vice president insists that the government is “committed to ‘continue the path of reform and modernization.’”
In the weeks to come, we can expect more of the same from Assad’s camarilla, a nepotistic group of family members and close friends who comprise the military, political and economic establishment in the country. Syria provides an especially overt and extreme example of the kinds of venality and favoritism inherent in all of statism, of the nature of political power and coercive, economic privilege. Reuters reports that Syria’s secret police is “headed … by a cousin of Assad,” and another of his cousins runs the ostensibly “private” company, Syriatel, the country’s largest telecommunications firm.
Since the Assad family came to power, beginning with the military coup headed by the current president’s father Hafez, Syria’s economy has been marked by the cronyism of a small group of the family’s intimates. Through “currency manipulations,” “preferential treatment and quasi-monopolies,” observe Frank O. Mora and Quintan Wiktorowicz, the ruling class’s military-based elite has starved the country and stifled growth for its own benefit.
Whether the ties are rooted in blood or class interests, the state, everywhere and at all times, is characterized and defined by nepotism. Its rules are geared to wring the rewards out of the productive and to wall in certain industries, allowing a chosen few to dominate commerce. While the fact of literal kinship perhaps renders Syria’s corrupt system more blatant, such profiteering from coercion is the centerpiece of statism. And, as we’re witnessing in Syria, ultimately all statist economies — founded on submission to masters — require a level of police or military violence to maintain.
Wherever the proles don’t ungrudgingly fall into line in the state’s game of monopoly, they are bridled under the jackboot of those more obvious arms of the state. Start complaining too much about food shortages, poverty and unemployment, or — God forbid — protesting for democracy, and at least in Syria the state has no qualms about outright extermination. There’s no real reason, though, to assume that Syria is a special case, that, if enough people as a percentage of population took to the street, any state wouldn’t resort to the most merciless forms of violent subjugation.
Fundamental to free market anarchism is the understanding that economic restraints through violence go hand in glove with violence against civil liberties. All human freedoms are bound together, and every state is interested in expunging the full lot of them as obstacles to the monopolization of wealth and resources.
Real free markets are nothing like centrally-planned economies or state capitalism’s corporate economy, which is just Assad’s “keep it in the family” program writ large. The tragedy in Syria should undercut the myth of state legitimacy not just for Syrians, but for every victim of statist brutality and exploitation everywhere — for all of us.
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