Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Syrian Update

Another Friday comes and goes, and twenty two more Syrians are said to have been killed by the Assad regime's violent thugs and security services. Conventional wisdom says that if you are in a hole then you should stop digging, but Bashar al Assad does not have conventional wisdom. In fact, he has no wisdom at all. Now that the EU have imposed unilateral sanctions on the country, I do wonder what, if any, cards Mr Assad holds at all. The only response he's been able to conceive has been violence, violence and more violence. At the same time, his sycophants have been promoting the mother of all lies, fervently arguing that Syria is in the grip of a massive conspiracy involving al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Turkey, Israel, Europe and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. In a recent article on Now Lebanon, a man called James Kirchik gives a devastating riposte against Joshua Landis, a man who has been able to establish himself as an expert of some sort on Syria. I've commented, as have others, about Landis's pro-regime slant and unapologetic pro-Assad views, so this is nothing new. There are plenty of others who are like him, and I will watch their inevitable 'excommunication' from polite society in Syria with a lot of amusement.

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition still seems to be taking its sweet time forming a viable alternative to Mr Assad. I agree with my good friend Robin from Pulse Media (his recent interview is available here) on the slow but steady evolution this opposition has been experiencing, the delays might actually be a good thing because the nascent opposition does need an incubation period of sorts for it to become effective in any way. But of course that all means nothing whilst unarmed Syrians are still getting their teeth kicked in by Assad's thugs. 

I think, and I'm not just saying this because I am a Syrian, the Syrian people are setting the true example for an Arab revolution and the effects of their victory, when it arrives, will be far deeper and more profound than I can imagine at the moment. There is a rather strong international consensus that Syrians wish to resolve this matter alone, regardless of all the calls for NATO intervention. The region, as I've long been saying to whoever cares to listen, is in the midst of a great game between Iran and her allies on the one hand, and the United States and her allies (especially Israel) on the other. Syria has always been in the pro-Iran camp, whether for matters relating to realpolitik or for sectarian reasons. 

I used to believe it was the former, but these days, and now that the ugly face of Assad's regime is appearing, it might very well be the case that Syria was being treated, to all extents and purposes, as an 'Alawite' state. But this is all conjecture and irrelevant. I doubt very much that Syria will remain in the pro-Iran camp for long after Assad is ousted from power, but it is not a given that the Syrians will charge into the arms of the United States and Europe. Rather, and this is probably how the game will be played, Turkey is going to have a major role to play in a post-Assad Syria. Iran is not going to be welcome in Syria for quite some time but, if Syria's future government is smart, they should take care to maintain relations with Iran whilst also using that as a bargaining chip with the United States and the West. Syria's clever positioning in the political arena that is the Middle East has, for a long time, helped it to punch way above its own weight. There's no reason why that successful manipulation of the new great game should change just because we've gotten rid of a dictator. The underlying motivation of a free and relatively democratic Syria should be for whatever is in the interests of Syria, and not for revenge or spite.

Finally, I think this Burhan Ghaliouni guy is a likely candidate for a future president of Syria, but I don't know anything about him. I used to try to read his writings on his blog, and remember being utterly bored by his dry and unimaginative style; I still am, but that might be what Syria needs. Somebody like him might be a good president, but perhaps the country should have a far more wily political animal for Prime Minister. Who that should be, I don't know yet. It's not even clear what a post-Assad government will look like yet. What is definite so far is that the political landscape in Syria is sheer carnage right now. 

Oh, one more note. I was thinking about these shabiha thugs that the regime has been hiring. Once Assad falls, the future Syrian government has to do something about them very quickly. With their pay evaporated, along with their benefactor, these thugs can quite comfortably switch, if they have not done so already, to a life of crime. So watch this space.

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