Friday, April 1, 2011

On Syria

The speech of Bashar al Asad, in which he conceded nothing to the demands of the Syrian people who  continue to be violently repressed, and in which he made bad jokes that made every one laugh and clap (even the cameramen, such is the power of the Baath party) came as a surprise to me. While his aides (Chaaban and Tlass) had been indicating that serious reforms was on the way, Bashar said nothing of the sort (a very good analysis of the speech can be found on Angry Arab).

From the Beirut political cafes, the speech is widely seen as an indication that a deal has been struck between Syria and the forces of reaction operating in the region, and that, to use the words of an analyst, "Syria is now located in the Gulf". If true, this does not mean, of course that the regime will necessarily prevail, only that it has a wider political margin to repress the people. This analysis seems to fit with the declared position of Saudi Arabia (whose military action in Bahrain had received Syrian endorsement prior to the events in Dar`a), as well as by the noises made in the US and Europe. Time will tell whether this will be enough to quell the Syrian protests.

I met last night with an acquaintance who describes herself as "very close to the secular Syrian opposition". She had been in Damascus during the latest events and I couldn't wait to get her take on things. She told me that the protests in Dar`a were led by the tribes, and those in Lattakieh by "Alawites who want to show that they are not affiliated with the regime" (show who? the regime? the West?). She also said that the Kurds were preparing to join the protests en masse, but not as Kurds, rather, she said, as "Sunnis". She objected when I pointed at the obviously sectarian nature of this description, as she maintained that the protests were non-sectarian in nature. She added that Aleppo was going to determine the fate of the Syrian uprising, as "this is where the money is", and that everyone is waiting to see if the merchants, who are fed up with the corruption, will move openly against the regime. According to her, the pre-emptive repression was strongest in Aleppo, stronger even than in Hama which is considered to be an islamist stronghold.

In Damascus, she said, the protests are secular and led by a large group of youth who are disillusioned with their future, with the opportunities they don't have and who would like to have more freedom and to live in a democratic regime (incidentally, the Arab uprisings have stretched the meaning of youth and have extracted it from its temporal frame and placed it in a political frame. Youth now includes anyone who is part of the Arab Spring, and who acts in a dynamic, youthful fashion, who knows what the internet is, and who uses jolly ringtones on their mobiles). She kept insisting on the "non political nature" of the protests, and that the protestors were avoiding talks of religion, nationalism or socialism. Instead, she said, they focus on human rightism, which seems to have become a powerful stand alone new ideology that seems to have replaced replaced US gunboat democracy. We had a lively discussion on the subject, as I am a strong supporter of the need for ideas and ideologies including, but going beyond, human rights to frame the Arab Revolutions.

She told me that the repression had been very violent and insidious in Damascus, and that every time a few hundred demonstrators assembled, an equal if not superior number of security thugs dressed in plain clothes and wielding batons would attack them, but that their resolve was strong and that they kept assembling. I asked about the age group of the people involved in the Damascus protests and she said mostly between 20 and 30. I asked about their number and she said she estimates it at 5000.

She also told me that the Syrian opposition (I'm not sure if she meant in Damascus or elsewhere as well) was resolutely aligned with the Lebanese March 14 coalition in whom it finds a kindred spirit. The March 14 coalition has strong links with Saudi Arabia and the US. Its political agenda strongly overlaps with the Israeli one on issues of disarming the Lebanese Resistance, and the movement has been largely discredited by the wikileaks for the positions of its leadership during the July 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. It takes its name from a huge protest that took place in Lebanon on March 14 2005 after the assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri. During that demonstration, sectarian and racist slogans, especially anti Syrian ones were chanted. Anti-Syrian racism continues to be the position of most of the March 14 leadership and much of its public.

I had written in my latest long post on the Arab uprisings that we should support the true revolutionary in Syria. To me, these true revolutionary certainly DO NOT include anyone who thinks of the racist, anti-Resistance, anti-Syrian (people) anti-Palestinian (people) March 14 coalition as political soul-mates. But I wonder how true that the Syrian opposition (at least the Damascus one) is overwhelmingly aligned with the Lebanese March 14 movement. The few people I know are resolutely pro-Resistance and strongly left wing. 

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