Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Real Evils plaguing "the Real Evils Plaguing the Region" - a response to Buthaina Shaaban

Ms. Buthaina Shaaban, the political and media advisor to the president of Syria, has written an article on Forward Magazine's website about the Egyptian revolution. Considering her quite visible role as a representative of the Syrian government it was interesting to see her response to this historic event. However I was quite disappointed with its context and ambiguous conclusion, and I felt compelled to respond to some of her assumptions. Having received direct responses from Ms. Shaaban for emails that I had sent her commending her various foreign policy statements, I do hope she responds as earnestly to well intentioned criticism - otherwise I will have a very uncomfortable stay in Syria the next time I visit. Below is a copy of my comment to her article.

Ms. Shaaban, you have written a timely article which exposes the considerable hypocrisy underlining Western relations with Arab countries, however, I feel your article has not done justice to particular aspects of the Egyptian revolution; Aspects which can portray a deeper and far more uncomfortable reality facing the Arab world than the geopolitical machinations you expose so masterfuly.

The Egyptian revolution was not only a revolution against the Mubarak regime's execrable foreign policy, nor only against the relegation of Egypt to the role of a US vassal in the region. In fact, not even the deplorable conditions of the Gazans, exacerbated by Mubarak's assistance of the Israeli siege, were the largest motivation for this revolution.

The fact remains, and must be stated however uncomfortable the reality, that Egyptians were revolting against the arbitrary nature of their government, the endemic corruption and police brutality, and the complete disregard for the "rule of law" that became characteristic of Mubarak's regime.

Whilst Egypt and its other Arab allies might be guilty of their complicity with the United States and the criminal entity in our region, one cannot honestly say that the arbitrary and harsh nature against which the Egyptian people revolted is unique to these regimes alone. To say that outrage over what happens in Iraq and occupied Palestine is the prime motive for the discontent of these people is a crass understatement which neatly sidesteps the "elephant in the room", so to speak. This may, perhaps, explain the rather ambiguous conclusion to your article.

Understandably this is an uncomfortable topic to broach, particularly for someone in as sensitive a position as yours. Being an "Arab Citizen" used to mean something once, it was a privilege which granted its owner the right to speak, to be heard, and to be involved in how their country is being governed. It is a privilege which also demanded respect, and to serve the citizenry was a role which instilled a certain sacred awe in government officials. Surely we cannot all be so obtuse as to not recognise this fact?



abbasrahbani said...

Very impressive Maysaloon, as usual.
I do not think we disagree that reform is an option that is delusional in Syria at this point. I thought that reform is an option in my beloved country, until I see both Tunisia and Egypt raise as one and change, actually change the whole system. Basically at this point the Syrian regime thinks that every time they allow one basic right to be taken back, this a privilege that we should be thankful for. i.e when they opened up the internet service back in Syria. I might agree that poverty and corruption in Syria not at the extend of Egypt, but that is not a reason to forgive and be silent. Again, I used to say if there is a poverty in Egypt that does not justify poverty in Syria, and if there is oppression in the U.S.A that does not justify oppression in Syria.

I think it is time to change, and any other solution is incomplete.


kareem said...

Well said. Shaaban is sticking to regime's narrative. In the recent Wall Street Journal interview, Asad, to his credit, recognized the need for a fundamental change across the Arab world. Yet, at the same time, he said that his government is immune to the anger of the Arab citizen because of its foreign policy stance. Is this just his public stance or is he, as is Shaaban, blind to the "elephant in the room"?

Maysaloon said...

Gents, thanks for the comments and feedback. I think we are all in agreement here in that the solution to the region's problem does not lie solely in its foreign policy.

Creative thinking and creative solutions are not going to fix a process that is fundamentally flawed and will undermine any foreign policy, however popular and successful it is in resisting foreign designs for the region. The sooner this is acknowledged the better. That Egypt or Tunisia revolted was a sign that the situation became intolerable. This is why they must be learnt from but not necessarily emulated, because if a nation reaches such a point it means that things have become irreparably broken. I don't think Syria is at that point and there is still plenty of opportunity for constructive dialogue.

Camille said...

Excellent letter Maysaloon.

Don't worry about your next visit to Syria though :)

I really think that any Syrian official who focuses exclusively on foreign policy when analyzing what took place in Egypt would be doing a big mistake. Dr. Shabaan needs to recognize when it is time to admit mistakes. President Assad ALWAYS tells foreign reporters who interview him that he is not happy with the speed of reforms. He says he makes mistakes.

Maysaloon said...

Thanks Camille, and well said. We all need to admit to our mistakes and be frank about them. If not, what else do we stand for?