by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 2, Jumada' al-Ula', 1433)
The ongoing unrest and killings in Syria have aroused great concern among Muslims worldwide. This is natural. As people in Syria marked the first anniversary of the uprising on March 15 that was launched in Dar‘a, in the south of the country, the Syrian army was pounding the town and was on the verge of crushing the rebels after the army successfully flushed them out of Homs (March 1) and Idlib (March 13) in the north. The rebels fled both towns abandoning the very civilians on whose behalf they claimed they were fighting and in whose midst they were hiding, thus exposing them to great danger. The rebels blamed the “international community” for not coming to their aid. The same day, there were also rallies in many towns across Syria in support of the government.
Civilian suffering, especially that of children, always arouses deep concern among Muslims, indeed all people. Human suffering of any kind should concern people everywhere and they should help end this tragic situation as quickly as possible. It is, however, at the larger level that there is much confusion and misunderstanding about what is really afoot in Syria.
Since the pro- and anti-regime factions are so deeply entrenched in their respective positions that any criticism of their side — be it the regime or the rebels — is immediately misinterpreted as support for the other. Crescent International’s coverage of events in Syria exposing the foreign hand behind the uprising is branded by some as support for the regime of Bashar al-Asad itself. For the record, we do not consider Bashar al-Asad to be a legitimate ruler. The same holds true for the majority of rulers in the Muslim East. Unless there are free and fair elections in Syria to determine the people’s wishes, this position will remain unchanged. However, it must be emphasized that not everyone is opposed to the regime. How widespread this support is, is difficult to judge but claims that everyone opposes Bashar al-Asad are simply not true. At the same time, we know that he would not hesitate to use whatever force necessary to crush the uprising regardless of the cost in civilian lives. This is the nature of all dictatorial regimes.
The situation in Syria, however, cannot be explained by the simplistic equation of good (people’s legitimate aspirations) versus evil (a dictatorial regime’s determination to cling to power). From the very beginning, the opposition or whoever was leading it, made a number of strategic blunders of which the greatest was resorting to arms. Such tactics did not succeed in Egypt in the 1980s and Algeria in the 1990s despite people rising up against dictatorial regimes. Once people resort to arms, they lose the moral high ground and provide the regime with the pretext to come down hard thereby crushing the movement. It must be borne in mind that regimes have far greater capacity for violence than whatever the rebels can muster. The same phenomenon is now being played out in Syria with disastrous consequences.
We can contrast this with the completely non-violent protests in Iran in the late 1970s that resulted in the overthrow of the Shah’s brutal regime in January 1979. True, the people of Iran offered more than 80,000 martyrs but the rivers of blood created an insurmountable barrier between the regime and the masses. Ultimately, the soldiers themselves rebelled refusing to obey their officers to shoot unarmed peaceful protesters, thereby sealing the fate of the regime. The same phenomenon was witnessed in Egypt a year ago. Again, the masses did not resort to violence despite provocation by the regime’s thugs. What is interesting to note is that the Egyptian army did not use force to crush the people’s aspirations. While it forced Hosni Mubarak out of office, at the same time the army won itself undeserved credit enabling it to grab power. It remains entrenched despite elections to parliament. Presidential elections are due in May but the military continues to be the ultimate decision-maker and the old order remains largely intact.
Let us analyze the mistakes the Syrian opposition groups — and there are a host of them — have made. Despite their loud rhetoric, unfortunately a trait all too common in the region, the myriad groups are disunited. The Syrian National Council (SNC), a group claiming to represent all Syrians, has little support inside Syria and is mired in confusion and disunity. The BBC reported on March 14, that three leading members resigned from the group amid accusations that it lacked focus and was ineffective. Even the US, the group’s principal sponsor, has complained that it is in disarray. The Zionist regime, meanwhile, has kept a low public profile even as Mossad agents work in tandem with US Special Forces, and French, British and Turkish commandos in undermining the Syrian regime. The Beirut daily, the Daily Star, reported on March 5 that Syrian army had captured 13 French commandos.
Haytham Manna, Chairman of the Arab Human Rights Commission and a senior figure in the National Coordination Committee is critical of both the SNC, which he describes as a front for Washington, as well as foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs. He describes this as “negative intervention,” saying it “destroys but does not create.” Regarding the SNC, Manna says: “I don’t know where it will take us…” He explains his opposition to foreign intervention by saying: “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 Arabian capital whatsoever.”
The opposition’s other blunder stemmed from misreading of events leading to the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya. It assumed that just as the Libyan rebels were supported by the West through direct military intervention, the same would happen in Syria once the uprising began. Syrian opposition groups thought they would ride NATO tanks into Damascus. While there are some similarities between Libya and Syria, there are also major differences. In both cases, the US had cultivated opposition figures for many years, much longer in the case of Libya than in Syria. Syrian opposition groups, for instance, had established contacts with the US as early as April 2007, according to the Wall Street Journal. The link was Elliott Abrahms, a staunchly pro-Zionist operative and Washington insider.
Having learnt from their mistake in Libya, China and Russia refused to hand the West another blank cheque through the Security Council authorizing military attack on Syria under the guise of imposing a “no fly zone.” The double Russian-Chinese veto of the Syrian resolution on February 4 frustrated Western plans for another regime change in the Muslim East but that has not deterred the imperialists or their mouthpieces in the media to call for military intervention even without a Security Council mandate. This is camouflaged as “humanitarian intervention,” a new animal that was first invoked against Serbia to protect the Kosovars in 1999. What is conveniently ignored — something the largely dumbed down North American public would not know — is that Kosova was never a part of Serbia. It was occupied by Serbia using the spurious pretext, much like the Zionists, of “historical” claim to the land. This is not the situation in Syria. Despite their deviant religious beliefs, the Alawites are not alien to Syria. Max Boot, writing in the Washington Post (March 16) was at least a little more honest when he admitted that knocking down the Syrian regime would undermine Iran. That is the West’s real aim, not the spurious excuse of “humanitarian intervention.” Since when did the US and its allies become concerned about the well-being of other people?
Further, unlike Libya, the Syrian army is largely intact and there is little likelihood of its fracturing. And Syria is not weak militarily, nor is its air defence primitive. NATO pilots would not be involved in a turkey shoot. Syria is also a vast country with mountainous terrain where Western armies would be easy targets for Syrian army attacks. What the West had hoped for was that Turkey would carry the can for them. While it has not done so fully, unfortunately Ankara’s position has been quite disappointing. Instead of acting as mediator to end the violence, it has taken a decidedly hostile stance toward the Syrian regime forgetting that Syria could return the favor by giving a free hand to Kurdish guerrilla operations inside Turkey. Talk about “buffer zones” and “safe zones” inside Syria is dangerous and would be seen as prelude to a foreign invasion. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, has rightly warned of the dangers of intervention and introducing more weapons into the country.
The list of Syrian opposition figures and their backers also raises serious concerns. Some of them have dubious credentials. How can they be against Bashar al-Asad but work closely with the likes of Rif‘at al-Asad, the butcher of Hama (1982), and Abdul Halim Khaddam, who had served as foreign minister and vice president until 2005 including in the Bashar regime? Do they become good just because they are now opposed to Bashar al-Asad? What does it say about the motives and credentials of the opposition?
Similarly, there are disturbing reports, backed by evidence, that the Saudis, Qataris, Israelis and Americans are smuggling weapons and Special Forces into Syria. It has been argued that the people are so fed up with the regime that they would turn to anyone, even the devil, to seek help. This is a dangerous argument. First, this is not entirely a people’s uprising, as the Arab League mission confirmed in its report in January. The mission described the uprising as an “armed insurrection” and blamed both sides for civilian deaths. The Qataris promptly shelved the report and disbanded the mission because they did not like its findings.
Some Syrian opposition members have gone so far as to say that they have no dispute with Israel. This is both revealing and disturbing. Some Syrian ‘ulama, Sheikh ‘Adnan ‘Ar‘ur, for instance, sitting in Saudi Arabia, have even called for Israel to “protect” the Syrian people. Since when did Israel become the protector of Muslims — Syrian or others? Have these people never heard of the Palestinians’ ongoing suffering that is now into its seventh decade?
It has also been argued that the Syrian regime’s friendship with Iran and its support of Hizbullah and Hamas have been for ulterior motives. This is true but this has resulted in greater benefit to the Islamic movement (Hizbullah and Hamas). Further, even though there is little in common between Islamic Iran and the Syrian regime, it must be remembered that Tehran was always the dominant partner in this equation, not Syria. What other Middle Eastern country is willing to help Hizbullah or the Palestinians: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar or Kuwait? These regimes are subservient to the US and the illegitimate Zionist entity. Their stand against the Syrian regime is not motivated by a desire to support the Syrian people in gaining their rights. If they do not grant such rights to their own people, how can they be sincere about the Syrians’ rights?
There are more than 30,000 political prisoners, most of them academics and lawyers, in Saudi Arabia whose only crime is that they asked, very peacefully, for reforms. Saudi Crown Prince and long-time Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, told them quite bluntly: “what we took by the sword, we will keep by the sword.” The campaigners were promptly arrested and thrown in jail.
There are also hundreds if not thousands of political prisoners in Bahrain including doctors and nurses where again, the people took out peaceful processions demanding reforms. The Saudi regime sent in troops and tanks to crush these peaceful protests. So why are the Syrian people more deserving of support than those in Bahrain? The truth is these regimes are consumed by a deep hatred of Islamic Iran because the Islamic Revolution exposed their fraudulent Islamic credentials as well as their subservience to US-Zionist interests. Removal of the Bahraini regime would strengthen Iran’s hand just as overthrowing the Syrian regime would undermine its influence in the region.
There are deliberate attempts to prevent a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria by regimes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel and the US. Several opposition groups inside Syria want to resolve this through dialogue but they are being frustrated by those opposition figures sitting abroad because they are financed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and unfortunately, Turkey as well. While sitting in the comfort of five-star hotels, they can afford to sacrifice the lives of all 23 million Syrians. Did they not do this with the Hama uprising in 1982 when 25,000 civilians — men, women and children — were butchered by troops under the command of Rif‘at al-Asad? He currently lives in exile in London and is part of the opposition. What does it say about the sincerity of opposition groups in exile? Surely, the Syrian people deserve better from opposition leaders than what they have got so far.
In pursuit of advancing the US-Zionist agenda, the Saudis and Qataris are stoking the flames of sectarian hatred. This would not only push Syria under US-Zionist control but also engulf the Ummah in a sectarian war whose repercussions would be felt for generations to come. Should this dangerous plot succeed, Iraq and Libya would look like childs play. There is much more to the unrest in Syria than the simple issue of the rights of the people, legitimate as they are.