Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jihad Makdissi talks Elephants and Umbrellas

Why is Jihad Makdissi being interviewed about Geneva 2? And why now? And why at all? These are all very important questions that need to be asked, and they need an answer. I don't agree with people who say that Jihad Makdissi represents the kind of people we want in Geneva 2, not because I have anything personal against him, but because he and the current he represents are irrelevant. There are two parties that need to be in Geneva 2, the regime and the Syrian opposition - the real Syrian opposition, however clumsy and divided it is.

It is important for us to clarify what we mean by the Syrian opposition, especially with regards to Geneva. People who refer to the Syrian revolution as a "crisis" are using a codeword that is acceptable to the regime and therefore makes them immune to its wrath. When they use the word "crisis" they tread a thin line, and acknowledge a very real problem that Assad is facing, but avoid using a term that de-legitimizes his rule. Mr Makdissi uses the word crisis. And as far as I know the man has never used the word revolution to describe what is happening in Syria, even before it became armed.

Then there is his constant deflection of the debate away from Assad. Mr Makdissi's interview might tick all the boxes for people who don't understand the doublespeak of the Syrian regime, but his choice of words brings up interesting observations. He criticizes the opposition for being fixated on the "president" (a curious term to still be using for a mass murderer) and yet his entire interview is couched in language that builds up the regime's image as a side, at the very least, that can be relied upon.

Of course as I brought up earlier, he doesn't refer to it as a revolution once. He doesn't talk about the torture, the killing, the shooting of unarmed protesters. He doesn't speak about the corruption of the Makhlouf family, the brutality and utter dominance of the Assad family over every decision made in the Syrian security apparatus - but he believes he has spotted the elephant in the room that everybody else is ignoring. Well done, sir!

In short it is as if he wishes to skirt around every reason why there was a revolution in Syria in the first case. In Jihad Makdissi's universe, the Syrian "crisis" as he calls it, seems to have sprung up overnight between two sides and came about for reasons that nobody can fathom, and that for some reason both sides have great animosity towards each other. Complicated scenarios, complicated solutions and complicated thinking. He wants a ceasefire, he talks about negotiations, but saturated in his interview is a blinkered view of what has been happening in the country for the past three years. I found it particularly amusing, and completely arbitrary, the way he dropped in some classic Arab Baath nationalism "lite" to deflect any insinuation that he was situating himself as a reassurance for Syrian Christians:

But I think our Arab umbrella should be maintained because relation with God shouldn’t be the essential factor.
I think there is a good reason why he pushed aside such notions and I will clarify why later in this piece. But more interestingly nobody has taken note of Mr Makdissi's "Arab umbrella". This umbrella was never opened when Assad started shelling Homs and Hama in 2011, the latter on the eve of the first day of Ramadan. He certainly didn't bring up his Arab umbrella when protesters were being shot at in the streets of Deraa in 2011.

In fact, he appears to be extremely selective about when he deploys this kind of speaking. A review of Mr Makdissi's Twitter feed around the 21st of August 2013 seems to show that he politely ignored the regime's chemical weapon attack in the suburbs of Damascus, but then showed a remarkable interest in the looming strikes against the Assad regime. Is it possible that his Arab umbrella only opens up against Western bombs? I don't know and the only person who can answer this question is Mr Makdissi.

Then there are his other curious statements in the interview:
I really hope to go back today. I don’t have any legal issues, because after I left they accepted my official resignation, but today who cares about law when there is no order? Frankly I would have never left Damascus if I knew that my resignation would trigger no reaction. At the end of the day I have two kids and a family, and there was no room for taking any chance.
What does he mean by not leaving if he knew there would be no reaction? And what on earth is he talking about when he brings up "legal issues"? The Syrian government is dropping barrel bombs on Syrian villages, but Mr Makdissi believes he has no "legal issues". I don't know whether to laugh or cry when reading such statements. But even though his motives are unclear, there is still a lot we can glean from this interview.

It gives us an insight into how the skeleton of Syria's government accommodates the Assad regime. It is almost as if blinkered bureaucrats like Mr Makdissi have perfected a method of walking on egg shells around the unfathomable core of Assad's security kingdom but are still unable to predict how it will react to the slightest deviation from acceptable discourse. That same discourse is one that he and others in Syria's paper opposition adhere to dogmatically. The regime gives no clue as to how it reaches its decisions, so government officials simply quake in fear and hope their over the top posturing and platitudes earn them favour from on high.

The real Syrian opposition talks about Assad and uses his name openly and clearly. It refers to concrete instances of abuses by the Syrian regime, it screamed to the high heavens when he lobbed chemical missiles into civilian areas, and it openly acknowledged and condemned human rights violations by rebel groups. The real Syrian opposition, the one that was dragged kicking and screaming to Geneva 2 (for its own good) and has grudgingly given some fighters more human rights training in the past 36 months than Assad did to his entire security services in over forty years, is the one that needs to be in Geneva. Syrians do not need Mr Makdissi and the people who talk and think like him to be attending the conference. If there is an elephant in the room, it is the one stopping Mr Makdissi from seeing what the Syrian regime has been doing to his country.

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