In early March, just days before the eighth anniversary of the 2011 revolt against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian regime organized a boisterous celebration in the main square of the southern city of Daraa to unveil a new bronze sculpture of Bashar’s father, Hafez.
It depicts a youthful-looking Hafez fused from the waist down to a large rock atop a pedestal, with a series of steps leading up to the monument. The sculpture of Hafez, an army general who seized power in 1970 through a coup against his own Ba’ath Party comrades and ruled Syria with an iron fist until his death in 2000, looks immovable, indestructible, and above all, eternal. He’s a half-human, half-rock demigod gazing ahead coldly and resolutely, with his hands resting on the shoulders of two awestruck children pressed against his waist and clutching stalks of wheat—the main crop in the largely agricultural Daraa province.
The new statue, erected next to the local governor’s mansion and guarded around the clock, replaced one torn down by an angry crowd in March 2011, after security forces shot and killed unarmed protesters on the streets as well as others holding a peaceful sit-in at a Daraa mosque. The people of Daraa had chanted for freedom and dignity, dared to breach the fear imposed by the Assads’ security apparatuses, and inspired the rest of Syria to rise up. The violent response was ordered by Bashar’s younger brother Maher and his cousin Hafez Makhlouf with the Syrian dictator’s full knowledge, according to new evidence revealed in my book, Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family’s Lust for Power Destroyed Syria.