by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 11, Safar, 1433)
It is now well established that foreign powers are deeply involved in destabilizing the regime of Bashar al-Asad in Syria. Such interference is not confined merely to anti-regime propaganda, although it plays a significant role by presenting misleading reports about civilian casualties to stoke anti-regime sentiment.
It is now well established that foreign powers are deeply involved in destabilizing the regime of Bashar al-Asad in Syria. Such interference is not confined merely to anti-regime propaganda, although it plays a significant role by presenting misleading reports about civilian casualties to stoke anti-regime sentiment. The tribal-owned network, al-Jazeera, is in the forefront of such propaganda reinforcing the belief that it is working according to a US-Zionist-Saudi script that was agreed upon in Paris as early as February 2011. Recent reports that US forces have been sighted near the Jordanian-Syrian border give credence to the regime’s assertions that it is facing armed attacks from gangs as well as foreign mercenaries. Creation of the Syrian Free Army (SFA) is part of the same plot to provide cover to US-Israeli attacks inside Syria while claiming that defected soldiers are carrying out such attacks. Their number remains relatively small.
Where the foreign powers, including Turkey, miscalculated was in assuming that the Asad regime, like those in Tunisia and Egypt, would collapse quickly. They also made the mistake of assuming that once uprisings are staged in one part of the country — north near the Jordanian border because of easier smuggling of weapons — they would quickly spread to other areas including the capital Damascus. This has not happened. Not only has the regime been able to withstand the pressure, no uprisings have occurred in the two most important cities: Damascus and Aleppo. In fact, massive rallies have been staged in support of the regime that both al-Jazeera and the Washington Post presented as being anti-regime. Such reporting can hardly enhance their credibility.
Haytham Manna‘, chairman of the Arab Human Rights Commission, admitted in an interview with Mandiaal Nieuws (December 9) that people in Damascus and Aleppo are waiting on the sidelines because they are not clear about who or what would follow if Bashar al-Asad were ousted from power. Manna‘’s concern springs from the deep divisions that exist within the ranks of the opposition. The Syrian National Council (SNC) claims to represent all opposition groups and to speak on behalf of all the Syrian people but it has little support inside Syria. Led by Burhan Ghalioun, a Paris-based university professor, its members are mainly Syrian intellectuals in exile. The SNC was cobbled together in Istanbul at the beginning of October. The group held its first congress in Gammarth, north of Tunis, on December 16–18 to agree on a clearer strategy but little came out of the meeting despite its symbolic importance; it coincided with the first anniversary of the Tunisian uprising.
“We need to unite the opposition and make it stronger,” Ghalioun told the AFP news agency. This was a clear admission that the opposition is disunited. It did not help the SNC when a day earlier (December 15) another group of Syrians meeting in Istanbul, announced the formation of the National Alliance. Turkey is beginning to assume the role of headquarters of all Syrian opposition groups. “We need to emerge from this congress with a higher level of organization, clearer targets and more momentum,” Ghalioun said. These appear to have eluded the congress because despite claiming to have agreed to co-ordinate with the Free Syrian Army, the rebels — comprising a tiny minority — are pursuing their own agenda. It is this free for all that has frustrated the emergence of a coherent opposition strategy or how to pursue it. As Manna‘ pointed out, who will replace Asad? The opposition has no clue and this is what makes most Syrians reluctant to join them.
While Syrian opposition groups go through the motions of holding “grand” congresses, “extraordinary” meetings and other high sounding get-togethers, their net result is marginal. This explains why they are so dependent on outside help. The SNC in particular has called for UN intervention although it has stopped short of asking for armed intervention as in Libya, aware of the consequences that would follow. Besides, foreign, mainly Western powers know that Syria is no pushover, unlike Qaddafi’s Libya. The Syrian army and establishment have remained largely intact. There have been no defections of prominent members of the Syrian ruling elite. Defections from the army are small despite the Western media giving them great prominence and presenting them as large.
Perhaps realizing that Asad’s departure was not imminent, the Arab League tried to change its stance. After issuing threats to the Syrian regime to comply with its demands, it has now adopted a more conciliatory approach. The Arab League has never achieved anything in its entire tortuous existence. It is a conglomerate of potentates and tyrants that do not allow any freedom to their own people so how can they expect Asad to comply with their demands. On December 19, Syria signed an agreement with the Arab League to allow foreign observers into the country. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallam said the League had accepted a number of demands put forward by Damascus that included prohibition on visits to military bases or installations. In return, Syria agreed to an immediate end to firing on protesters and allowing League observers to oversee implementation of the agreement.
While opposition groups within Syria are willing to accept the agreement that would end the violence and usher in political reforms even if Asad remained in power, those residing outside are adamant that Asad must go. It is such divisions that have led many Syrians to conclude that opposition groups are incapable of offering them a better alternative to the present set-up. They are also unhappy with foreign-based groups whom they accuse of working at the behest of their foreign sponsors that have no interest in seeing a stable and peaceful Syria. In fact, they feel external powers have their own agenda to engulf Syria in turmoil.
Given that a meeting of Syrian opposition figures had taken place in Paris last February at which plans were agreed to launch an uprising against the Asad regime, gives credence to people’s skepticism. Those present at the Paris meeting included Syria’s former vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam; Saudi security advisor, Bandar bin Sultan; US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman; US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro; and chairman of the Arab Human Rights Commission, Haytham Manna‘. The line-up of participants is revealing. It was not a meeting of Syrian opposition groups per se but such troublemakers as the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Even representatives of the Hariri clan from Lebanon were present.
At the Paris meeting the Saudis and the Americans pushed for smuggling weapons into Syria from Jordan to launch the uprising. Manna‘ was opposed to the idea and so concerned about its consequences that he immediately sent word to the tribal elders in Deraa, his home town, asking them not to allow any weapons to be smuggled in or used in the uprising. Manna‘ rightly feared that it would result in another Hama-type massacre as happened in 1982 and end in similar failure. Manna‘ is no softy. He belongs to a family with a long history of opposition to the regime. His father has spent many years in jail; his brother was killed in the uprising last August but he can see clearly what others are refusing to see. He does not want Syria to emerge with an even worse situation than it currently has.
While the Deraa elders accepted Manna‘’s advice, this did not prevent others from resorting to armed attacks. There have been numerous instances of masked gunmen appearing suddenly and firing indiscriminately at protesters before disappearing. They have also attacked police and other security personnel. While the BBC World Service never tires of reminding its readers about UN estimates of 5,000 people killed in nine months, it fails to mention that these include at least 1,100 security personnel. This is a very large number of police and soldiers to die at the hands of “peaceful” protesters. Further, the figure of 5,000 dead is quite arbitrary. This is based on claims made by opposition spokesmen without providing proof. True, one cannot belittle the number of civilian deaths, it must also be borne in mind that there are external players that want to destabilize Syria as part of the larger plan to undermine the resistance front against Zionist Israel. Manna‘ describes this as “negative intervention,” saying it “destroys but does not create.”
The concern that Syrian opposition figures abroad are working to the US-Israeli game plan is not unfounded. After all, for the US, survival and protection of Zionist Israel takes precedence over all other considerations. If the Asad regime were destroyed, it would deal a severe blow to the resistance front and both the Palestinians and Hizbullah would be exposed to grave danger. Some Syrians argue that their interests cannot be sacrificed for the sake of the Palestinians or Hizbullah. They must explain why they deserve any support or sympathy if they are willing to act as stooges of the US-Zionist duopoly financed by the Saudis?
Manna‘ has been quite clear about why he opposes the Syrian National Council. “I don’t know where it will take us…” He also fears foreign military intervention in Syria and wants change to come about from within. “We want the revolution to be an authentic realization of the people,” and he does not want to see the blood of the people “to be traded or sold — not in Washington, and not in any Arab capital whatsoever.”