Monday 18 June 2012

“Egypt is now teetering and Syria splintering”

Tariq ibn Ziyad illustration from Wikipedia 
I chose today to paraphrase this think piece on the Arab Spring, written in Arabic for the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat. The author is Lebanese political analyst Iyad Abu-Chacra, who holds a Bachelors’ degree in Political Science from the American University of Beirut and a Masters from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London:
These are frustrating hours for all those in the Arab world who built high hopes on the spirit of revolution that gripped the Tunisian street and ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Today, a year and a half since our so-called “Arab Spring,” we find ourselves in the position of a deceived husband -- or should I say the husband who deceived himself.
The courage of ageing and young Tunisian activists took the country by surprise. Ben Ali fled as soon as his military and security services refused to challenge citizens who had rediscovered their voice and their will.
Egypt’s case was somewhat different. Gambits to absorb the shock, which now appear to have been calculated by the army and Washington, saw Hosni Mubarak leave office as a person. But power remained in the hands of the effective “ruling party” – i.e. the army and a “security state” it has been nurturing since 1952.
Elsewhere, under conditions of a growing fragmentation of Yemen’s landscape, a recipe now known as the “Yemeni solution” was concocted. It was a prescription for a limbless body politic, where tribal and personal interests, extremist sectarian propensities and regional and international political calculations overlapped. As a result, intended “central state authority” effectively lost control over large areas of the country.
As we focus on Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, God bless her, delights in telling us – after 15 months of conflicting signals and wanting measures – the case is “complex.”
Anyone hoping to see the end of the Syrian people’s nightmare is entitled to wonder: What is the bona-fide cause of the hesitation by Washington, which was invariably eager to name the Syrian regime a sponsor of terror? Hasn’t the State Department been blacklisting Syria year after year? Haven’t successive administrations described Syria a “rogue state”? Didn’t Congress pass the “Syria Accountability Act” by a 398-4 vote in October 2004?
Remember that President Bashar al-Assad assumed office 11 years ago on the death of his father, who ruled the country for 30 years. So Washington is surely aware of the Assad regime’s nature.
For Washington and the international community to continue parroting the mantra “the Syria situation is complex” can only mean one of two things. Either they are truly incapable of confronting Moscow’s neo-tsars and Beijing’s neo-emperors, or Washington and its Western allies are in cahoots with Moscow, Beijing, Iran and Israel to parcel out influence in the Arab region.
American democracy being built on, among other things, the peaceful transfer of power, the current administration’s impotence vis-à-vis Moscow and Beijing need not be permanent. The Republicans will sooner or later replace the Democrats and change U.S. foreign policy.
What we see meantime is the Arab Spring inching in the direction of the worst-case scenario. The region today is choosing between two alternatives:
(1) “Political Islam,” which snatched, and is trying to monopolize, the fruits of the Arab Spring, and
(2) “The security state” as in Egypt, which “went with the flow” before giving the Islamists sufficient rope to hang themselves by their lack of political acumen.
The outlook for Egypt is very gloomy, irrespective of the presidential ballot outcome. Egyptian citizens who thought they had carried out a revolution were given a terrible choice between a Mubarak regime candidate and an Islamist carrying a religious agenda. This is when Egypt has a 10-million-strong Christian community, a disbanded national assembly and popular distrust of the judiciary, party leaders and politics generally.
Any hope of an imminent dawning of a “civil state” in Egypt is swiftly fading – especially and justifiably because of discontent among Copts, who had to vote for the Mubarak regime candidate to ward off the specter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In Syria, where UN monitors decided to stop “monitoring” for self-protection purposes, the catastrophe has turned tragicomic.
The raison d'être for the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) was to ensure Damascus’ compliance with Kofi Annan’s six-point initiative – chiefly, a ceasefire, the release of detainees and negotiations on the transfer of power. Syria approved the initiative simply to bypass and abort it.
This is exactly what happened. By this writing, the number of Syrians killed since the UNSMIS deployment had exceeded 3,000.
At the same time, there has been a quantum leap in massacres committed by the regime against it own people – massacres that have now taken a sectarian cleansing character in such places as the rural areas of Homs, Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib governorates.
What transpires from the Houla and Qubair massacres is that the regime is spearheading Iran’s sectarian design in the region. The design is based on this premise: “What is yours is to be shared between us and what is mine is mine alone.”
Having failed to regain control of every inch of the Syrian territory, the regime is now bracing to carve out its own sectarian enclave at the price of confessional bigotry, massacres and counter-massacres, displacements and population exchanges.
Time then to recall the battle cry of Tariq ibn Ziyad, the warrior who led the Islamic conquest of Spain in 711. When Tariq was informed of the approach of the enemy, he rose in the midst of his men and, after having glorified the Almighty, he spoke to his soldiers thus:
“Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but you, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy. If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage. Put far from you the disgrace from which you flee in dreams, and attack this monarch who has left his strongly fortified city to meet you...”