A butcher of distinctionA butcher of distinction

French name Assad ‘man of the year’

Syrian president and ‘long-necked ophthalmologist’ joins likes of Hitler, Stalin among ruthless despots to get year-end accolades

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Neck and neck with the greatest tyrants of the 20th century? Syrian President Bashar Assad (photo via Shutterstock)
Neck and neck with the greatest tyrants of the 20th century? Syrian President Bashar Assad (photo via Shutterstock)

Sometimes it seems as if nothing is more agreeable than to read those ubiquitous, mostly innocuous December-time lists compiling the best songs, books and people of the past year. Still, one French newspaper’s choice to bestow man-of-the-year accolades on embattled Syrian president and “mass murderer” Bashar Assad may raise an eyebrow or two.

“He’s the man of the year 2012. At least if we use cynicism and cruelty as our criteria,” Le Monde wrote this week. “And even though he probably won’t survive 2013, he will be remembered for a long time — until someone exceeds his insane record: more than 40,000 deaths in 19 months of uprising, and it is far from over.”

Actually, according to the recent assessments, the Syrian civil war has claimed upwards of 45,000 lives.

The left-leaning paper stated that when the war broke out it had wondered whether the Syrian president could “outdo” his father Hafez, who slaughtered between 10,000-20,000 of his subjects after they dared to rise up in 1982. Now, the paper concluded sarcastically, not a shred of doubt remained: “Bashar, the long-necked ophthalmologist with the slight lisp, certainly did more and much better.

“The Syrian president is not only the greatest mass murderer of the beginning of the 21st century; he also invented a new style of dictatorship. Rarely has there been such detachment in cruelty.”

But the uprising against the regime in Damascus is gaining strength daily, making Assad’s demise merely a matter of time, the paper posits. According to Le Monde, even once-staunch ally Russia is no longer betting on Assad’s survival, and the only remaining question is whether he will die in his own country or survive in exile.

Assad isn’t the first mustachioed mass murderer dictator to be named “person of the year” by an influential news outlet. In 1938, for instance, Time Magazine bestowed that exquisite honor upon Adolf Hitler.

“When without loss of blood he reduced Czechoslovakia to a German puppet state, forced a drastic revision of Europe’s defensive alliances, and won a free hand for himself in Eastern Europe by getting a ‘hands-off’ promise from powerful Britain (and later France), Adolf Hitler without doubt became 1938’s Man of the Year,” the magazine wrote on January 2, 1939.

On the following year, the title went to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who also won it in 1942.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was Time’s person of the year in 1977, two years before the honor went to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

The only Israeli to win the title so far was late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who shared the 1993 prize with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

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