Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Joseph Massad and the "Struggle for Syria"

I've just read Massad's opinion piece and its not as bad as people have told me. In short he's arguing that the struggle for a democratic Syria is now no longer possible because the involvement of the Gulf states and the West will place a Western compliant dictator in charge there, as is the case with Bahrain. He puts forward a strong argument and whilst I think he will be right in the short term, this is not the first time that Syria would have a pro-Western dictator at the helm. Husni al Zaim had plans to recognise Israel and resettle Palestinians along the Iraqi border before he was overthrown and shot.

What makes Massad's article fatally flawed is precisely what undermines other writers who subscribe to the "resistance" discourse, the assumption that it is the regime which safeguards the resistance to Western hegemony in the region. What has been proven again and again in modern Syrian history is that the intense nationalism and pro-Palestinian stance of Syria has its roots in the Syrian people and not with any authoritarian regimes. It is this passionate stance which the regimes have capitalised on in return for acquiescence to their rule, and so Massad's thesis is turned on its head if we take a long term view. Anybody who takes over in Syria after Assad will have to take part in a political process, but will be unable to control the political process without an overwhelming popular mandate. Yes, the West will try, and for some time probably succeed, in altering Syria's foreign policy decisions, but it cannot maintain a puppet dictator for long. Egypt and Yemen are stark examples of the new political reality that has been imposed across the region.

Syria could still implode into civil war before either scenario plays out, but to call it quits just because some opportunist actors are taking advantage of the Syrian revolution is a curious and untenable position to hold.


As'ad AbuKhalil said...

Where in the article or anywhere else did Joseph ever say anything about the regime supporting 'resistance"? You need to be fair in your critique. You can't respond to Hizbullah while responding to Joseph.

Maysaloon said...

I did not say Joseph described the regime as "supporting resistance" anywhere in the post.

I intended the post to be a response to his pessimistic view that because the Syrian revolution has been manipulated by the West and the Gulf states - which is true - that this means any hope for a future democratic Syria is doomed.

Within this response, I say that even if the West does manage to install a pro-Western puppet, then this success will not last because it is the Syrian people who hold a position of "resistance" and not a regime or a single person.

So Western plans could fail precisely because it is assumed that the regime is a "resistance " one when the opposite is true, resistance lies with average Syrians and the regime manipulates that sentiment to remain popular.

I'd like to be crystal clear about my position, and I hold only the greatest respect for Massad and his work. He makes a strong argument, but perhaps out of desperation for Syria on my part, I refuse to share his pessimism and I try to explain why he might be wrong.

As'ad AbuKhalil said...

Yes, like you I believe that the Syrian people are capable of doing far more for resistance and certainly for the liberation of Golan than the lousy regime. Of course, I have no faith at all in the ability of Ikhwan-led groups to do anything good in this or that regard.

Anonymous said...

I would say you are wrong in counting on the Syrian people in the long run ... Sadat and Mubarak managed Egypt's close cooperation with Israel for decades ... despite the wishes of the Egyptian people ...

Israel needs a few more years to turn East Jerusalem into a mostly Jewish place ... by the time the new democratic and confident and economically secure Syria emerges at the end of an endless transition period there will be no negotiated solution to seek... Golan gone and Jerusalem gone.


Maysaloon said...

Sadat ended up with a bullet through his neck and Mubarak is rotting with his sons in a jail cell. I think we have every reason to believe in the Syrian people who have shown tremendous bravery and courage.

I see you are very concerned about the Golan and Jerusalem and not that concerned that the lousy Syrian regime has killed over 3,500 of its citizens, and imprisoned and tortured thousands more.

A nation of slaves is in no position, morally or practically, to liberate anything. For your information this regime has never hesitated to use its army against its own people, but always chooses to "respond" to Israel in "a place and time of its choosing", ie. never.

I am sure you are aware that the Israeli army shot and killed Syrian and Palestinian demonstrators at the Golan's border, but the Syrian army didn't fire a single shot to protect them, probably because it was too busy killing people in Hama and Homs. That's how much this regime cares about Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry if i do not have short and simple answers to what you wrote. If you think you have a better set of moral values (you care about 3500 people killed and I care about a piece of land) I'll let you enjoy your moral superiority ... this is not the first time you jumped to this conclusion. You are often eager to place yourself up there where you can feel disappointed in the rest of us who lack your proximity to God.

You are convinced the Syrian regime is the root of all (or most) problems. I'll remind you that the Baath party was the great revolution of the great Syrian people for the Syrian people ... so was Qaddafi's revolution ... and the Iranian revolution ...

A revolution, like the one we are experiencing is not looking like an improvement ... to me. It is a very costly lateral move (if we are lucky) ... in some ways, it might improve over the current rotten regime, in other ways it will risk destroying Syria .. and Lebanon, and maybe more.

Sadat and Mubarak ruled for decades before their combined "regime" was destroyed ... and ... their regime is not really destroyed ... its top was removed, that's all.

Anyway, I won't add any new comment here. There is no use communicating ...You are waiting, with full confidence, for your favorite side to win .. I am waiting, with less confidence, for both side to realize they can not win, and to then engage in serious dialogue ...

Maysaloon said...

My "favourite" side to this conflict happens to be the Syrian people, not some authoritarian and corrupt dictator and his clique of croneys.

I'm also sorry if the murder of thousands of Syrians by their own government makes me biased and unable to hold a calm and rational discussion. Apart from that, most of your response attributes things to me that I have never said or claimed.

Maysaloon said...

** I am posting the comment below from Qunfuz, who was unable to post it himself. He asked if I would kindly post it and the views are his own - Maysaloon **

I have no respect left for massad. his earlier positions have been curious and often plain wrong (his attack on mearsheimer and walt). this jazeera article is appalling, worse than what you say, Maysaloon. he said that the syrian revolutionaries should realise that their revolution is now led by imperialist powers and the gulf and that therefore they should give up. what total shit, so totally divorced from reality. and the conclusion is that the people should return home and wait to be arrested and killed. the most appalling counter-revolutionary hysteria, the most asinine nonsense. such purists (and asa'ad abu khalil is another) will support a revolution when it is led by radical secularists who condemn Saudi Arabia and Qatar before they have even rreached power - in other words by fantasists. the lack of responsibilty of their positions, their total disengagement with reality when people are fighting and dying for their freedom, makes them irrelevant to what is happening on the ground. I'm amazed that I used to admire these people.

of course, there's no more truth in the belief that syrians are fated to be ruled by the gulf and the west (which are not at all the same thing) than that libya is fated to be ruled by al-qaida. no more truth in massad's blanket thinking than in abu khalil's islamophobia. perhaps things will pan out this way, but it's not inevitable. it's even unlikely.