Final scene in Syria
Learning from the region's other violent uprisings, it is perhaps time for the Arab League to step into the Syrian drama, with armed forces if need be, writes Abdel-Moneim Said
It is difficult to say whether the appalling violence in Syria will still be raging by the time this article appears, or whether events will have reached their inevitable conclusion with the death, flight or disappearance of President Bashar Al-Assad and the beginning of a new Syrian era.
The final scene in the Syrian epic opened with the bombing that did away with half the country's defence and security leaders. Most likely this "qualitative operation" will not turn out to be the Syrian version of the German Valkyrie operation, in which a number of senior German officers plotted to assassinate Hitler, and which marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime, even though the war continued for another year. However, the Syrian regime will ultimately meet the same fate, and when it falls Syria will embark on a new phase in its history. Not that the next phase, which in the literature of the Arab Spring is called the "transitional stage", will be any less difficult and dangerous than its predecessor.
It is now possible to identify some patterns to the revolutions in the countries of the so-called Arab Spring. For example, countries with a strong state and professional army produced the pattern that was seen in Tunisia and Egypt, where the revolution ended quickly, the regime fell but the state remained intact, and then the diverse political players, inclusive of the state, engaged in a protracted haggling process as they struggled to rebuild the state on new foundations. A different pattern emerged in countries where the state was weak, the army not as professional, and both were divided into forces of roughly equal strength on the basis of tribal affiliation. In this case, after some bloodshed and due to the fear that it would escalate into civil war, the concerned parties reached the "Yemeni solution", which is to say the departure of the president and his clique while the regime remains virtually the same, but with some democratic modifications.
Countries in which power was monopolised by an ethnic or ideological group, or by a monolithic state party or by a leader that believed he is possessed divine rights over his people, gave rise to the third pattern. Here madness prevailed over wisdom and the country was plunged into civil war and massive bloodshed, which only came to an end when the revolutionary army entered the capital in a scene that culminated in a combination of jubilant triumph with the death or execution of the leader and bleak images of destruction, this being the toll to be paid for the overthrow of a tenacious fascist regime. Libya and Syria, at present, typify this model.
The fourth pattern occurs in countries where the state is cohesive but fearful of revolution and, simultaneously, unable to make the necessary reforms to avert it. Such a situation generates a climate of permanent anxiety peppered by intermittent revolutionary events and periodic eruptions of short-lived violence. Examples of this pattern are to be found in Sudan, Mauritania and Bahrain that, in spite of the considerable dissimilarities between them, have reached neither the spring of revolution nor the summer of stability.
As we noted, Syria falls into the third category. It has proven the most vicious and bloodiest of the lot, and it is also the most expressive of the prevalence of "Arab nationalist" fascism that exhibits an extraordinary degree of vanity and lunacy, which accounts for why the regime's reaction was so relentlessly brutal. Generally, in such cases, the state, the army and political society fragment and the head of state meets a tragic end. Iraq and Libya are the obvious precedents and, today, Syria is experiencing similar fissures. The Baathist state is crumbling as one member flees, another defects and others vanish. The national army has split into the regular forces and the free army. Society is divided between a majority that has suffered bitterly for decades and now feels that the time for revenge is at hand, and trembling minorities who had long thought that their protection from the majority was to be found in the embrace of a tyrannical regime and who now find themselves caught between choices each of which is more dire than the next.
One is struck by the fact that this type of regime was often a vociferous champion of the "Palestinian cause", deriving legitimacy from defending this cause against various international conspiracies. Unfortunately, more often than not "the cause" is one thing and the Palestinian refugees in the country are another. The latter are required to demonstrate their absolute loyalty to the regime as it remains steadfast in the fight to protect the cause. But when the hour of revolution strikes, which in this pattern bears little semblance to spring in view of the callousness that eventually coalesces in the face of a ruthless regime, the Palestinians become victims of a momentous plight: on one side is the regime that believes that it is only logical for the Palestinians to support it; on the other are the revolutionaries who believe that they have paid far too much for a cause that defies all solutions and for a people that always finds a home in the ranks of tyrannical regimes. The inevitable consequence is another exodus of the Palestinian people, as occurred in Iraq and in Libya. Already, in Syria, at least 300 Palestinians have been killed, even before the fall of Damascus, by bullets from the regime and the revolutionaries.
Yet, this is almost a sideshow, as tragic as it is. The real show will come the moment that the Syrian Free Army marches into Damascus, for this moment will be as epoch-making as the entrance of the Arab army into Damascus at the end of the Great Arab Uprising, or the culmination of the wave of Syrian coups d'êtat with the rise of Baath Party rule in 1971 and Hafez Al-Assad's "corrective movement" whose four decades of correction succeeded only in entrenching a horrifying fascist dictatorship and hereditary rule.
Will Syria experience another Tripoli or Baghdad? Will the march to Damascus turn into a search for the remnants of the regime that are abandoning ship like rats and fleeing in all directions as the people are gripped by a collective frenzy in which murder and mutilated corpses quench their thirst for vengeance against the tyranny of prisons and torture? At the time of writing, the regime is bombarding Damascus from all directions, as though it had never been its proud capital. One is reminded of the last days of Hitler, before his suicide, when he vented his wrath against Berlin and the German people. Wrath is also frequently the name of the game for revolutionaries when revolution can find no other ending but the violent fall of the regime and the capital.
What one hears from the leaders of the Syrian revolution is heartening: All will be well. Rule of law will prevail. The majority and the minorities will unite on a foundation of equal citizenship. There will be a new democratic constitution that will establish justice and the peaceful rotation of authority. The people will be happy and enjoy the fruits of their many resources. That is what we hope for the Syrian people, of course, but it is a hope that is difficult to sustain in light of previous similar cases in the region. Perhaps Syria will set a precedent, but it seems wise to be prudent from the outset. In view of its experience to date with the Syrian crisis and in light of what it may have learned from the Libyan crisis, the Arab League should consider establishing a political presence in Damascus, and even a military one if necessary, in order to ensure the peaceful transfer of authority. The task would not be an easy one, if the Arab League summoned the resolve to undertake it, but one still reserves the right to entertain high hopes.