Friday, February 04, 2011

A Syrian "Day of Rage" - A Day for Fools

I was at a talk by Robert Lacey, the author of "The Kingdom" and "Inside The Kingdom" which was being held in the House of Commons last Tuesday. Upon finding out I was Syrian, Mr Lacey asked me whether I thought it likely that the wave of revolution sweeping the Middle East is going to reach Syria. I said that it will not and although the country might have similar problems to Egypt, the current president Assad is far more popular. In short, Syria is different.

On Wednesday, with Egyptians being attacked in Tahrir square, I was surprised to be receiving Facebook group invites in solidarity with the Syrian president. This struck me as incredible that whilst the whole world has eyes on Egypt, some dimwitted fool thought it opportune for a ridiculous and unnecessary affirmation of allegiance to the Syrian government. In the same breath, I visited the Facebook group calling for a "Day of Rage" in Syria. There were stern warnings for pro-government commentators that they will be kicked off immediately and with no questions asked. These commentators were labelled by the group's admininistration as 'saboteurs' and 'thugs'. I shook my head in despair as, once again, activist Syrians demonstrate their foolishness in a riot of noise and incoherence.

Syria, like Iran, is a vital pivot for the countries that are resisting American hegemony in the region. Yet, time and again, these same activists that call for the overthrow of the Syrian government in the name of freedom and democracy will emphasise that they too are against American hegemony. So they intend to check the advance of American hegemony by removing the check against American hegemony...

Such incidents demonstrated a certain lack of intelligence. The situation in the country is in no way comparable to, say, 1981, when Syria was embroiled in the Lebanese civil war and was also engulfed by the flames of an armed insurrection led by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, largely funded and armed by Saddam's Iraq. The level of brutality by the state back then in no way compares to the state of affairs today, although it is still just below the surface. It's not Switzerland, but Syria is much gentler to her people than it used to be even twenty years ago and that is a relatively big improvement.

I recall an Iraqi friend I met in London once telling me how he was approached by the Syrian security services whilst visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He had unknowningly been taking photographs of the Presidential palace and was surprised to see a plainclothes man come up to him and politely ask him to delete the pictures, checking afterwards that it had been done. He was amazed by the politeness, he told me, because if he had done something like this in Saddam's Iraq he would have been horribly beaten up or worse. Furthermore I have met many Arabs from different countries who have honestly told me they wished they had the Syrian president ruling their country instead!

This is not to say that the people of Syria cannot harbour genuine grievances against the government and its security services, but frankly there is no opposition worthy of the name to yet appear on the scene and Syria has acquitted itself admirably with regards to the resistance in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian cause. It will do far more harm than good to see a misguided "day of rage" waste all that hard work and I cannot see how somebody could justify such a position.

Finally, the biggest difference that these people do not grasp about Syria is that it is run by men who are themselves Syrian, born and bred. These Syrians reach decisions which are made in Damascus, not Washington or Tel Aviv as is the case with Mubarak's regime or the Ben Ali dictatorship. As a result, Syria is a country which punches far above its weight on the international scene and has a measure of healthy respect even from its enemies in the West and Israel. On the other hand, Egypt today is relegated to the status of an American vassal. The facts speak for themselves even if some people are unwilling to acknowledge them.


agger said...

That is all well and good. Now, what about freedom of association, freedom of assembly, complete freedom of expression and unfettered access to the Internet? Basically many of the things the people of Egypt are asking for too.

Syria may be gentler to her people than Egypt has been, but I think her people will end up thinking they deserve that freedom too. But maybe (actually) event in Tunesia and Egypt will make your president introduce reforms before it's to late (as it argubly is in Egypt).

Maysaloon said...

Well I don't know about you but I don't think freedom of association, assembly or "unfettered access to the Internet" are things worth getting shot for in street protests. Food on the table, medicine, right to an education, employment. These are issues I'd think were more important.

I'm not saying these you mention aren't important, but to conflate them into a grievance that would lead to protests like in Egypt? No, I think some perspective is important here.

مترجم سوري said...
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