A referendum in Syria has just re-elected President Hafez al-Assad for a second seven-year term of office.
A referendum in Syria has just re-elected President Hafez al-Assad for a second seven-year term of office. According to official figures published in Damascus, 97 per cent of the electorate voted, and more than 99 per cent of them approved of President Assad's nomination. There was no other candidate. President Assad will begin his new term on March 13th.
SYNOPSIS: President Assad has brought a new stability to Syrian politics at home. Abroad, his fluctuating relations with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt have been a measure of their respective standings as potential leaders of the Arab world. During the October War of 1973, they were close.
Both signed a first disengagement agreement with Israel. Syria regained the ruined town of Kuneitra, and President Assad went there himself in June 1974 to raise the Syrian flag. But he reacted bitterly when Egypt signed a second agreement with Israel a year later, and called it a betrayal of the Arab cause.
Then, when President Sadat went to Jerusalem last November, President Assad joined the Arab leaders who met in Tripoli, in the Libyan Jamahiriyah, to condemn the Egyptian peace initiative. But the conference, despite its solid backing for the Palestinian cause, was far from united.
Iraq, in particular, opposed President Assad's acceptance of United Nations formulae for a Middle East settlement.
President Assad, unlike President Sadat, has maintained good relations with the Soviet Union. He has been to Moscow several times, and has just announced another visit later this month. His main object is to buy more arms.
His other main preoccupation has been Lebanon. He has held talks with Lebanese leaders of all parties, and sent Syrian troops in to end the fighting between Christians and Moslems.
Syria's martial attitudes -- its control in Lebanon in the name of the Arab League, and its opposition to Egyptian peace moves -- have brought popularity at home to President Assad. But the strain on the Syrian economy, which these involve, are also building up problems for his next term of office.
He has forged a new friendship with Jordan. President Assad was the only Arab leader to support King Hussein at the funeral of Queen Alia, who died in an air crash.
The key role of President Assad in a Middle East settlement was recognised by President Jimmy Carter of the United States when they met in Geneva in May last year. President Carter had already met President Sadat and King Hussein in Washington.
Lebanese problems took President Assad to France two years ago, for talks with President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Otherwise he rarely leaves the Arab world. There,he faces a number of highly complex inter-related conflicts -- and so far as maintained a delicate balance in all of them.