Recent news highlights Hafez Bashar al-Assad’s controversial claim of earning a master’s degree with “honours” from Lomonosov Moscow State University. While there are doubts about the credibility of the Syrian educational system and Russian universities, the excessive praise he receives seems politically motivated, aiming to establish him as his father’s successor. Similar to his grandfather’s endorsement of his son Basel as the heir, Hafez II’s potential rise to power raises concerns about his age and qualifications.
However, there are no constitutional barriers to prevent him from assuming the presidency. The West’s conflicting stance on Bashar al-Assad reveals a desire for his continued rule but reluctance to engage with a leader associated with significant crimes. The West imposes conditions for normalization, requiring Assad’s acceptance alongside his Russian and Iranian allies. This situation effectively maintains the status quo until a settlement involving power-sharing with select opponents is reached.
Recently, Arab governments’ decision to normalize relations with Bashar al-Assad caused widespread uproar but had minimal impact on Assad’s deteriorating economy. Concurrently, the United States has implemented new laws to punish Assad, targeting the Captagon trade and prohibiting the U.S. government from normalizing relations with him. The Caesar sanctions, known for their severity, have also been extended.
The Biden administration is expected to partially approve Arab normalization under specific conditions. The U.S. approach to normalization and associated restrictions has been perceived as inconsistent. While opposing a military settlement, Washington turned a blind eye to Iranian militias supporting Assad before the Russian intervention, implying support for his continued presidency without returning to the pre-2011 situation.
Europe has emphasized accountability for crimes committed in Syria, but the seriousness of Western countries regarding accountability and establishing a mechanism for it remains uncertain. Their lack of incentives to embrace Bashar or allow him to stay in power indicates their reluctance to associate with a criminal. The West lacks the motivation to acknowledge his survival or ignore the ongoing crimes he is associated with.
The Syrian stalemate, falling short of Bashar’s and his allies’ aspirations, challenges American influence and is likely to persist unless the situation changes. Currently, there are no visible indications of a future settlement, especially considering the interconnection between the Syrian crisis, developments in Ukraine, and the ongoing confrontation between Moscow and the West, which may endure for years.
In the future, promoting Hafez II’s succession may be seen as the only viable solution to the impasse in Syria, even though it may seem surprising presently. This option appears more realistic than a settlement involving Bashar as a partner or excluding the Assad family from power. Hafez II’s inheritance project could gain Western approval and expedite the succession process when the various stakeholders are ready to close the Syrian chapter.
There are justifications for this scenario. As the heir, Hafez II is not personally implicated in his father’s crimes, and his inclusion on the U.S. sanctions list serves as a precautionary measure to prevent him from becoming a means for his father to evade penalties.
This scenario ensures Bashar’s peaceful relinquishment of power, providing continued security and survival for the loyalists who see the Assad family as their guarantee. It also allows greater participation of opponents in the settlement, relieving them of the dilemma posed by reconciliation with Bashar. Additionally, it offers sectarian consolation for those seeking it.
Due to the international isolation imposed on Bashar and his family, his son’s studies in Russia may be seen as a predictable option. However, considering the nature of Putin’s regime, it is evident that the son is under Moscow’s influence. Russian media coverage, including the Russian embassy in Cairo’s website, highlights his success and his mother’s presence at his graduation ceremony. While Moscow strives to ensure Bashar’s survival and international normalization, it remains entangled in the conflict with Washington, keeping the son as a card in reserve.
To emphasize, this scenario is not currently being implemented but may become the only option in the future for external players. Ultimately, the decision rests with the Syrians themselves, regardless of the involvement of external powers. If they reject this scenario, considering their experience with Bashar’s father, who dismissed them as “germs,” they may not require the son’s expertise, even if he claims to have a passion for mathematics. To them, he is likely to be perceived merely as a statistic.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.