Power and Policy in Syria Intelligence Services Foreign Relations and Democracy in the Modern Middle East
Book Review: Written before the recent wave of revolutions across the Middle East, this book by Syrian exile Radwan Ziadeh provides a informative, well intentioned but inconsistent account of the politics of modern Syria. The zenith of this inconsistency is the book’s claim to focus on Syria’s intelligence services, a worthy and important subject but one whose secretive and authoritarian nature makes it somewhat impenetrable. However, while Ziadeh fails to shine a light on the dark recesses of Syria’s security institutions, he does provide a very readable snapshot of the first ten years of Bashar al-Asad’s rule, placed into the context of a brief history of the country and the transition from Hafez to his son Bashar.
Part of the book’s failure is self-imposed. Ziadeh boldly begins by stating that academic studies of Syria “tend to place too much emphasis on a particular Syrian leader without attempting to study what mechanisms lie behind the political system”. The author critiques Patrick Seale’s masterly biography of Hafez Assad for claiming that “Asad is Syria, and Syria is Asad”, however such an attack on the behaviourist approach can only hold water if the work truly managed to propose a different hypothesis. Ziadeh’s research uncovers only what Seale would have himself confirmed: that Hafez Asad “was completely and single-handedly the one decision-maker who could set in motion any all-inclusive system at his disposal”. Ziadeh’s book offers little change, stating that “any differences between President Bashar Asad and his father stem from psychological differences between them rather than differences in the political system”.
The work is, however, a useful introduction to the structures of power that make up the security institutions underpinning the all powerful Asad presidencies. In the introduction, the author describes his own experiences of interrogation by the security forces, which eventually led to his departure from the country. Indeed Ziadeh has had a unique perspective of the “Orwellian system of surveillance” that exists in Syria, where he estimates there is a member of the intelligence service for every 153 citizens.
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