Thursday, July 04, 2013

Syria: A Revolution Denied

Being democratically elected is not a mandate for riding roughshod over the rule of law. After all everybody knows that the Nazis were democratically elected and yet they unleashed the template for the state sanctioned horror that we are seeing in Syria today. So what are we to make of events in Egypt? My view is that it is both a military coup and a popular uprising against Morsi.

To say it is one or the other, or to pretend as if the Muslim Brotherhood dominated government in Egypt, democratically elected or not, is a victim, is to take a simplistic view of a complex region. There is no denying that in spite of whatever support he could claim, Morsi was deeply unpopular and the numbers and crowds on the street calling for him to go were remarkable. This movement was in the same spirit as the uprising which toppled the Mubarak regime, and as with Mubarak, it was the army which stepped in to remove the unpopular ruler. But the Egyptian generals are the king makers and they cannot themselves rule.

That Morsi or even ten more presidents after him would be toppled is hardly surprising after a period of revolution. There are going to be many more administrations that come and go in this way before the country settles into some form of normalcy, but this should not be taken as a bad thing. In fact it holds excellent lessons for Syrians who are working hard to topple Assad. The removal of a decades long regime is not alone the goal of the Arab spring, but the beginning of opportunity. To put it simply the removal of tyrants will not give people the jackpot but rather it will give them the opportunity to buy the lottery ticket - something they have long been denied.

There are plenty of Assad supporters, the same ones who cheered the protests in Turkey for all the wrong reasons, who think that this vindicates Assad and condemns the revolution in Syria. They are wrong. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups enjoy far less support in Syria than they do in Egypt, and if anything the toppling of Mursi shows us that when Assad goes then nobody will have the monopoly on rule anymore. When nobody has absolute power then compromises are necessary, and with Assad no longer able to bomb the country we will see Syrians returning from refugee camps, and civil society and coordination committees operating and communicating freely again. We will also see the kinds of protest scenes that Syrians have long looked to their Egyptian cousins at with envy.

Going back to Egypt, the Egyptian military is ruthless and not to be trusted. It is simply playing a game of swapping heads around to find one that is more acceptable for the masses. But it is no contradiction to support the toppling of Morsi whilst also condemning the military coup that removed him. The battle in Egypt is one for the state, whilst in Syria we do not have a state. As such, the Egyptian army must maintain some form of adherence to the Egyptian rule of law that everybody is trying to dominate. They must pander to the crowds who have gone to the streets and satisfy their demands somewhat, or appear to be doing something about this. By contrast, we Syrians have neither a state nor a military institution but rather a private army and a regime to face. As such the unprecedented brutality and national trauma that we're going through as we fight to remove our own dictator is far worse than anything the Egyptians have gone through. Soldiers meddling in politics can never be a good thing and Egypt's protestors should beware of this intervention. It doesn't mean their fight is any easier, but it does mean that the forces they are fighting to wrest power from do have a grudging respect for the rule of law. This is probably the only thing stopping the Egyptian military from bombing parts of Cairo and imposing martial law.

This is explained partly because Egypt is an old state, something that Egyptians have Muhammad Ali to thank for. Syria, on the other hand, remained under the Ottoman yoke for far longer and so we just didn't get the experience of state building that the children of the Nile did. Ironically for us the period of the French mandate did lay the groundwork for some form of a Syrian state, and it was Syrian nationalists who chafed against rule from Paris who laid the groundwork for the country's independence and statehood through their struggle. The Syrian "Independence" flag of green white and black is today the symbol of that almost forgotten Syrian state and the struggle of our forefathers.

The start of the revolution against Assad might have been an attempt at regaining that national spirit, but this has now been sabotaged by Assad's overwhelming brutalization of Syrians, causing some deep sectarian rifts to re-emerge. This regime survives by creating crises and then solving them. Denying it the ability to sustain the crisis it has created in Syria will again allow some type of Syrian state to emerge. To do this then his power must be destroyed. Alternatively Assad and his allies must be taught that any transgressions will have painful repercussions directly to him, his regime, and his inner circle unless he agrees to negotiate and abide by the rule of law.

That might all be idealistic to hope for but it is realistic to demand. Until that happens Syrians will continue to look on in envy at the incredible scenes of public protest in Egypt, scenes that they were just starting to get used to before their revolution was denied them.

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