Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses


Bread and Circuses

Not many pictures and videos from Syria lend themselves to public distribution. Much of what I view I do not even wish to describe. However, the most bloodlusted images are in fact not always the most ghastly ones. I am unable to say which of the pictures from last week I deem the most horrid: that of a mother who was fortunate enough to procure two cats which she could cook for her children. Or that depicting a loaf of bread, held by the Syrian army on a stick into the Yarmouk Palestinian camp, at which there are said to be snipers lying in ambush. The camp has been besieged and systematically starved out for more than a year. Here and in other localities in the environs of Damascus several people contracted food poisoning after having eaten animal feed in their utter desperation. The requirement brought forward during negotiations with beleaguered territories was that to obtain humanitarian provisioning, inhabitants were not only required to cease fighting, but also needed to fly regime flags from their houses. That is the regime’s understanding of ‘bread and circuses’.

Everybody has their own way of preparing for Geneva II. Last week, the United Nations announced that they would no longer update the number of casualties of the conflict seen as it has become too difficult to verify them. This will make it even more comfortable for the global public to ignore that the own reluctance to act does not mean a stagnation of the conflict, and that every day that is allowed to elapse without having taken action costs more and more men, women, and children their lives.

Syrian moderate groups put up a fight against extremists and have in many places succeeded in pushing back Salafist groups by means of their own strength and without foreign support.

The Russian government intensifies its arms exports to the regime.

And the Syrian regime avails itself of the time whilst it unflinchingly proceeds with air strikes in residential areas. Since the negotiations on chemical weapons, it has massively increased the number of attacks with explosive barrels, especially targeting Aleppo. Not because it has no other weapons left at its disposal. This is simply the cheapest possibility to cause as much destruction as possible in the shortest amount of time. At the same time it relentlessly sustained the siege of numerous localities and swaths of land. The result: the transfer of power – the actual subject-matter of Geneva II, according to the initial plan from June 2012 – completely falls into the background. What should really be a given, humanitarian provisioning of the population, has taken centre stage for many of those commenting on Geneva II, myself included. The hope that something constructive can be achieved politically steps into the background in the face of these fundamental needs. However, a transfer of power is now more important than ever. Barely anything can prove more clearly that Assad views the Syrian population at best as a dead pledge for ensuring the survival of his own power clique. Yet Assad will settle back, perhaps make some minor concessions and will count on the opposition groups being and remaining at odds with each other and on the fact that the international community regards him as its only partner.

When it became known that hotel rooms were already booked up for the conference date at question, the Twitter community could be heard taunting that it might be possible to accommodate the delegates in UNHCR tents. Perhaps one could also manage to enlist some cooks from Moadhamiya. Merely the menu might call animal rights activists into action.


First published in German, on the blog Heinrich Von Arabien on January 16, 2014.
Translated from the German by Christine F.G. Kollmar.


About the Author

Dr. Bente Scheller is director of the hbs Middle East office in Beirut. She specializes in foreign and security policy and holds a PhD of Free University of Berlin on Syria. Before coming to Beirut in 2012, she was head of hbs' Afghanistan office in Kabul.


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