Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Tragedy of our times?

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many questions come to mind these days, few of which suggest reasonable answers. Take, for example, the Syrian crisis, which the Egyptian president described at a recent meeting of the UN General Assembly as the “tragedy of our times”. The scale of the tragedy in Syria is undeniable, and the way regional and international powers have dealt with it is deplorable on more than one level. For instance, everyone seems to be expecting the regime — or its head at least — to fall. But what happens after that? What is to become of Syria? So far, the answer escapes us.
Another crucial question is that of Palestine and the Palestinians. For some time now, Palestine has been placed on the backburner of the region’s politics. How did this happen? Wasn’t it an axiom of Arab politics that Palestine was the one and only tragedy of our times? How come everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten it? Is this another conspiracy of silence?
With a sleight of hand, Syria seems to have taken Palestine’s consecrated status as the tragedy of our times. What a relief! Now we don’t have to look into our failure to address this issue. Now we don’t have to look into the way our collective Arab system fails to act when action is needed. Now we don’t have to apportion blame or search our souls.
We don’t, for example, have to ask the Palestinian factions, all of which claim to be engaged in “resistance”, about the sense of their strategies. We don’t, for example, have to ask them about the damage they do to their cause, damage that matches that of what Zionists themselves are doing.
No one is resisting in Palestine anymore. No one has a strategy for managing the conflict. And the land that somehow remains in Palestinian hands is run by two governments, both irreconcilable, and both beholden to powers beyond their borders. The Ramallah people are hoping for the Israelis to be nice to them. And the Gaza people are thrilled to see the Muslim Brotherhood take over in Egypt, hoping to see more Islamists in government elsewhere.
Never mind what you hear about Palestinian reconciliation. It’s all hearsay, rumour — a mirage. The only thing that matters to Palestinian officials right now is to hold on to power at any cost. The conflict with the Zionists is not their priority.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian issue is being forgotten — replaced with the conflict in Syria, with the news of the fighting, with questions over who is taking sides with the opposition and who is supporting the regime. Those who are fighting for freedom and democracy in Syria are now hard to find, for a lot have joined the opposition to fight for other goals, to start proxy wars. Some belong to Al-Qaeda or warlike Salafi groups. Some are fighting not for freedom for the Syrians, but for Sharia, a concept they can distort to no end.
Rival powers are fighting their proxy wars in Syria to gain a foothold in that country, to further their own interests, not those of the Syrians. And hundreds of innocent people are dying as a result. Hundreds are maimed, and thousands run away to live in tents, in makeshift camps. Hundreds of thousands are left to the tender mercies of international aid.
As marketplaces go up in flames and buildings turn to rubble in indiscriminate bombardment, the Kurdish influence grows in Syria’s northeast, and the Turks treat its northwest as their own. Syria is being lost, going the way of Iraq, its army in disarray and its territorial unity in peril.
No one but Israel can benefit from that. Israel — which has convinced the world that the biggest problem of our time is Iran, not its occupation of Palestine — must be pleased to see this re-prioritisation unfold.
Those who advocate a military solution in Syria overlook the disturbing facts: the kind of destruction that the country will inherit, the ensuing power struggle that will follow the regime’s demise, and the schemes that are being hatched for the country. Once the current militias make their bid for power, what do you think will be left for those who call for freedom, justice and dignity? What will be the use of ideals when extremists begin pushing for the creation of an Islamic emirate? Or when the Kurds begin calling for secession?
How long will Syria resist partition? And what say will Israel have in this country’s future?
The answer to all of the questions above is one simple word: Palestine. This is our main crisis. This is the “tragedy of our times”. If we agree on that, then there is hope for this region, and some sense left.
Israel is the problem. Those who want to fight proxy wars in our land are the problem. As for Syria, a military solution is the last thing we need. What Syria really needs is not more fighting, but more talking. The factions of the Syrian opposition must agree on a national project, on a consensual approach to the future government of Syria. The Syrian people have the right to choose the regime they want and the president they want.
Only through such a course of action can we save Syria from collapse. Only then can we prevent it from turning into another tragedy of our times.

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