Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Syrian State: A Corrupt and Rotten Facade

On al Jazeera there is a regular debate programme hosted by Faisal al Qassem called "The Opposite Direction". In bygone days it was known for broaching controversial topics by bringing in two antagonists for a frank and sometimes animated debate about political issues. Sadly it has recently descended into a sort of self-parody, a kind of Arabian 'Jerry Springer', and now the show is known more for the level of shrieking and theatrics than clear debate. Still, I do watch it when the subject interests me, and yesterday the show had two protagonists "debating" the relationship of Syrian Alawites to the regime. The anti-regime person is some writer I had never heard of, and whose name eludes me, but the pro-regime person is very familiar to me, and I have met him several times, Ammar Waqqaf.

Waqqaf is a member of the British Syrian Society, a kind of elitist hodge-podge of Syrian emigre's in the United Kingdom which has degenerated into an elitist pro-Assad lobby group that portrays itself as with any kind of Syrian solution where Assad's stepping down is not a pre-condition. Rumour has it that the original British Syrian Society was marginalised and sidelined when Fawaz al Akhras became the father in law of Assad. Anyway, Waqqaf is now a familiar personality on the media and yesterday he appeared on al Qassem's show arguing that in a future Syria it would be irrelevant what ethnicity people are, as they would all be citizens of the same "state" - which is fair enough but I'll deal where the problem is shortly. Sadly his protagonist was a terrible debator, and resorted mainly to diatribes and angry rants.

On a slight aside, this was the first time I'd heard Waqqaf speak very loudly, and in Arabic, and I noted that he had a very strong coastal accent, with its strong emphasis on the "qaf" letter. I don't know if he was doing this deliberately, as he seemed to enjoy acting like a ruffian yesterday and yelling back at his opponent. It was just interesting to see this different side to him - usually in English he presents himself as quite civilized, urbane and soft spoken, which was at odds with the boorishness on display last night.

Moving on, I didn't really care about what the two were arguing about, so much as I noted with interest the choice of words employed by Waqqaf. Throughout the show, he kept ringing the same bells, a good debating tactic. He emphasised that the Syrian "state" is under threat, that all good Syrians would defend it and serve it, and that those who attacked it deserved to be fought. He portrayed himself as with some kind of gradual reform, and shied away from the sectarian references brought up by his opponent. He called himself a member of a "new" generation, one that looked forward whilst his protagonist's looked only to the past.

What Waqqaf's hapless opponent should have done is deconstruct the myth that Syria has a functioning state, government and institutions. There has not been a state in Syria for over forty years. What Syria does have is a facade of government and the rule of law. There is a semblance of order which is maintained for practical purposes, but the relations of power are drastically different from the official "map" of state. Security institutions, attache's and personnel hold ultimate power over their civilian counterparts or "superiors", and an informal network of family, business, and tribal relations, headed by the Assad family, permeates throughout all sectors of society. No business can be maintained and become successful without having to pay bribes and, if it is too lucrative, it is not surprising to hear that members of the security establishment politely and quietly demand they be made partners. Those who refuse find their business slowly destroyed and paralysed, and those who agree are eventually muscled out. You cannot win, you can only acquiesce.

Acquiescence is very important for this regime, something that Waqqaf will surely know about, since his father was imprisoned by Assad. The regime is not content with simply crushing its domestic opponents. What it must achieve is a complete and utter dominance. You must love Big Brother before He gives the coup de grace. When Waqqaf talked about the "state" in the debate - and I use this term loosely - he is referring to something which has rotted away from the inside, and is corrupt of all conventional meaning. One should ask people like Waqqaf, what do you mean exactly by "the state"? What is the "Syrian Arab Army" that you are referring to? What do you mean by a judiciary and constitutions? Show me an example, and I will show you how all power is ultimately in the hands of the "President" Assad and his cronies. A parliament? Members of parliament were jailed for mildly chastising the president's cousin. A national army? What national army shells entire cities and shoots unarmed protestors? A judicial system? What system imprisons a seventeen year old school girl for blog posts? A constitution? What constitution is this when it is amended to fit the whims of a president within record time?

There is no state. And when Waqqaf arrogantly and with all the vulgarity that his camp are known for claims that he stands by a state, what he is really saying is that he wants a Syria ruled perpetually by the Assads. The Assads are the state, and everything outside of this vision is outside the state and is a traitor. If you love this vision, give yourself to it completely in body and soul, then it will provide for you so far as you are useful. If not, you will be completely and utterly crushed. It is nothing more than Syrian fascism with a dash of corporatism, and it has infected Syria politically, culturally and socially. There is not one remnant of the old Syrian state that remains untarnished, so complete and thorough has this movement embedded itself. The Muslim Brotherhood insurrection during the seventies sounded the death knell to Syrian civil society and to the remarkably active unions that the country once had. Under the pretense of a war on terror, all liberties were crushed, to be replaced by the politics of fear. This is the vision that Waqqaf is really defending, and the fact that he uses the terminology of statehood and representative government only adds insult to the injury that this regime has inflicted on an entire country.

Here is yesterday's "debate" in its entirety:


zenxbear said...
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mgb said...

It is very simple really: any group that manages to get its hands on power is loathe to share it and definitely does not want to give it up. Then you have a minority who harbors a deep sense of persecution who have been given absolute power over the lives of those who had lorded over them, they grew accustomed to having this absolute power and would of course react in the most violent way at those who threaten to strip them of such ill-gotten privileges.

The world and history has many examples of such groups.