Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Damascus plays cat and mouse

Arab press
Arab press
Al-Ahram Weekly

The noose is tightening around the undemocratic regimes of the Arab world and nowhere is this more obvious than in Syria and the Gulf Arab states. Armed opposition forces are advancing steadily towards the major cities and government installations in Syria where the Baathist regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is fast losing its grip on Alleppo, Homs, Hama and even the capital Damascus and scores of other cities around the country.

The outcome of the civil war in Syria is not a foregone conclusion, however. The pundits concurred that rather than storming Damascus, the Syrian opposition forces should seek to isolate the regime of President Al-Assad with a judicious mixture of military, economic and diplomatic pressure. The oil-rich Gulf states, too, are coming under increasing pressure from dissident groups demanding a greater measure of democracy and freedom of expression.

Writing in the pan-Arab London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi Saudi dissident and academician Madawi Al-Rushd penned a most provocative article entitled ‘The veiled men of the Gulf’ in which she derides the deployment of mercenaries many of whom are affiliated to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, by the beleaguered governments of the Arab Gulf.

“It has become an open secret that the authorities in the Gulf Arab states have resorted to recruiting foreign mercenaries in order to enforce law and order and quell uprisings and keep the peace. Kuwait, for instance, is rumoured to have imported 3,000 Jordanian mercenaries to suppress the simmering unrest in the oil-rich emirate. This is simply a despicable measure that will compound problems in the future,” Al-Rushd remonstrates.

And, as far as Syria is concerned, there is growing disgruntlement with the composition and true motives of the armed opposition. Several Arab commentators suspect that the Syria opposition is sectarian and divided by rival religious, tribal and ethnic considerations. Mustafa Zein, writing in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat was severely critical of the Syrian opposition in an insightful article entitled ‘Somewhat of a primitive communalism’.

“The Anadolu news agency reported that Syrian opposition member Michel Kilo met in Antakya with ‘Christian forces that have come from the interior and from abroad’ to form a group dubbed ‘Christian Syrians for Justice and Freedom’.” The task of the group is to “bridge the gap between Christians who still support the regime and the revolution”. Kilo asserted that the new faction stands “with the wagers of the true revolution, and against chaos and the Islamist option”. In other words, it is a Christian formation in the face of Islamist formations. Kilo also considered the Christians who support the regime to be “either shabiha [paid thugs] or being misled by the Church’”, Zein explained.

“It is clear from Kilo’s statement that he has joined the ‘revolution’ in the name of a Syrian community that has been known for its secularism and moderation. And in order for him to have value and a position in the leadership, it was imperative for him to come attached to a tribe or a confession, so that he may enter the ‘wagers’ as a leader. Such a process of affiliation confirms the nature of the ‘revolution’, as represented by the National Coalition. It is a coalition formed of sects, confessions and ethnic groups, each with its own programme and its own view of the identity of the ‘new’ Syria. It includes the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, the clans and the Kurds, as well as a Christian (George Sabra), whom Kilo does not consider representative of this community,” Zein concluded.

The Arab pundits, like the international community at large, have lost trust and faith in the Syrian opposition as a credible and cohesive alternative to Al-Assad’s regime. Jihad Al-Khazen also writing in Al-Hayat asks a pertinent question. “For months, I have been asking all the presidents, prime ministers, princes, ministers and intellectuals that I meet a worrisome question that I have in mind: Ever since you were in high school, have you ever seen an Arab situation worse than this one?” The veteran journalist and first editor-in-chief of the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat and now columnist and editor emeritus for its rival Al-Hayat laments the deplorable state of affairs in the vast majority of Arab countries. The present, according to Al-Khazen, is far worse and uncertain than at any time in the modern history of the Arab world.

“None of those people spoke about anything worse. However, they all agreed with me that we are going through dark and difficult circumstances, unseen in our region during the last three generations that I have witnessed, and I consider that I am well versed with this period. For decades, I thought that 1967 and its repercussions represented the worst possible Arab situation, or at least the worst since the early conquests. However, I lived to see an even worse situation by every account,” Al-Khazen deplored the sorry state of affairs.

“I do not think that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya invented the revolution in Syria to laugh at us. I believe, instead, that there is major and wide strife and that people are either with or against it, with no middle ground. Finally, I really think that the worst is yet to come,” Al-Khazen contended.

In much the same vein, and on an equally pessimistic note, Raghda Dergham writing in Al-Hayat contemplated the topics that could top the agenda in an article entitled ‘What will John Kerry hear on his tour of the Middle East?’ The Lebanese-American journalist based in New York sounded the alarm bells. She pointed out that the international community in general and the United States in particular is not satisfied with the turn of events in the Arab world.

“New US Secretary of State John Kerry may wish for his tour of Europe and the Middle East to be a listening tour, but he will nonetheless find in the capitals he shall visit similar enthusiasm for hearing what the second Obama administration has in store in terms of policies, which still seem vague, fragmented or surrounded by unconstructive obscurity,” notes Dergham in Al-Hayat.

“In Ankara, Syria will be heading the agenda. In Cairo, the Syrian issue will also be a prominent one at his meetings with Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil Al-Arabi, and perhaps also with United Nations-Arab League envoy on the Syrian issue Lakhdar Brahimi. And of course, Syria will be present in the talks that will be held by Kerry in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha, and will focus on Russia and Iran continuing to arm the regime in Damascus, at a time when Washington still refuses to arm the Syrian opposition,” extrapolates Dergham in Al-Hayat.

“The final decision in terms of whether or not to arm specific parties in the Syrian opposition — not those classified as extremist Jihadists or Al-Qaeda affiliates — will at the end of the day be one that President Obama will take himself,” she concludes.

Hamad Al-Majed, writing in Asharq Al-Awsat, was equally dismissive of the strategies adopted by the Syrian opposition. Al-Majed, a former member of the Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, warned that the militant Islamists now have the upper hand in Syria’s armed opposition forces.

“The issue of extremist groups in the Syrian revolution has become like a problematic ailment where the patient avoids discovering the extent of its severity, and declines to begin the treatment phase. In fact, he avoids even talking about it or being reminded of it. Yet two years on from the outbreak of the brave Syrian revolution, its power centres have effectively been divided in two — the political opposition based abroad and the revolutionary opposition on the ground. This is a very complex issue and we must talk about it openly,” Al-Majed observed in Asharq Al-Awsat.

On a similar note, Abdel-Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of the Dubai-based Saudi-owned pan-Arab satellite television channel and former editor-in-chief of Al-Hayat, writing in Asharq Al-Awsat an article entitled ‘Moez Al-Khatib is dancing with wolves’ decried the Syrian opposition leader’s tactics. “Everyone I’ve met has tried to make excuses for Sheikh Moez Al-Khatib, leader of the Syrian National Coalition, ever since he attempted to swim against the opposition tide by calling for negotiations with the regime on favourable terms. However, as was to be expected, the regime has responded by manipulating both Al-Khatib and his initiative,” Al-Rashed extrapolated.

“There are currently more questions than answers, but let us consider the following: is there any factor within the opposition or on the battlefield at present to imply that Al-Assad is really ready to commit to a peaceful solution and end his rule? This is inconceivable,” Al-Rashed stressed.

“Therefore, everyone must realise that it is not yet time for a peaceful solution. The revolution has not been defeated and the regime will not fall within a matter of days. The opposition must redouble its efforts to support the rebels on the ground and unite their leaderships. They must also insist on a military solution because despite the bloodshed, this is the only way to limit further suffering. Whatever Moez Al-Khatib and his supporters think, it is no longer possible for the Syrian regime to remain in power in any form, given the deep hatred entrenched among millions of Syrians,” Al-Rashed concluded.


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