Accepted paper:

Seeing like a father: the Ba'thist panorama of Hafiz al-Assad


Bethany Honeysett (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

To understand the currently beleaguered Syrian regime’s entrenchment I explore the terms of its legitimacy. By contextualising the hyperbolic imagery of power in a monument to former Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad with ethnography of kinship and political ideology, I address the regime’s popularity.

Paper long abstract:

The power of Syria's Ba'thist regime and its President Bashar al-Assad have been heavily encroached upon by its malcontents since March 2011. Yet it remains belligerently un-deposed. The regime's brutal shortcomings are exposed to the world for criticism which is often levelled directly at the Presidential position, as hereditary totalitarianism in a web of nepotism and sectarian privileging. But what are the terms by which they have remained in power for over 40 years? And what facets of ideology and practice have encouraged ongoing popularity across the social spectrum? This paper addresses kinship, nation-building and ideologies of domination for the 'greater good' in Ba'thist Syria. To illustrate I focus on the monument commemorating the October 6th 1973 Arab-Israeli War and former president Hafiz al-Assad. Paid for by North Korea, the castle-like monument gives visitors the opportunity to take in a series of immersive representations of the battle which saw Syria re-capture a strategic summit in the Golan Heights, culminating in a panoramic representation from this point. By juxtaposing the overt military references to power with the subtleties of other imagery the monument contains, I build on Lisa Wedeen's observations about the particularity of Syrian politics, as it interweaves with models of family and witness. Using ethnographic discussion of Ba'thist ideologies from families with whom I worked, I explore the reciprocity between familial modes of power and imagery and those of the regime in order to represent the stance of power from which it has held legitimacy, even among its critics.

panel P74
Power, desire and social contract: power's aftermath in the contemporary world