Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Death Throes of the Lion


by Mordechai Kedar

Everyone knows that the family name of the previous president of Syria and his son, the present president, is "Asad", "Lion" in English. Those who are acquainted with matters in Syria know that their original family name is "Al-Wahish", or "Wild Man", but Bashar's grandfather changed the family name to "Asad", in order to have a name which is more pleasant, honorable and acceptable. But lately, many in Syria have gone back to calling Asad by his original family name, which is consistent with the dishonorable, unacceptable and decidedly unpleasant way in which he treats his own citizens who are advocates of freedom and human rights.

When too many people in Syria say that the regime is about to fall, just the expression of it is enough to bring about the erosion of confidence that still - perhaps - beats in the hearts of some of his supporters. We're not talking about the hard core of Asad's supporters, those who will support him no matter what, which mainly consists of members of the Alawite ethnic group, but those people in the political suburbs and outskirts, who were connected to the Syrian regime in the past.

One of these is the Shi'ite Sheikh Sobhi Tufaili, one of the "founding fathers" of Hizbullah and its first general secretary, who recognized and appreciated well the role that Syria played in the creation of Hizbullah thirty years ago, in arming it, training it and bringing it to be the greatest power in the Land of the Cedars. Sheikh Tufaili was quoted this week as saying, "The Syrian regime can still conduct the process of transition to the "necessary change", but it depends on the adoption of democracy, even if gradually, before time runs out." Tufaili doesn't depend on the long range support of Russia, either, because Russia will not commit political suicide, and when they understand that Asad's regime is finished they will remove their support from him. This kind of clear talk about the end of an Arab regime, the great neighbor and strong patron of Hizbullah, is something that is not done in the political culture of the Middle East, and if Tufaili feels free to speak this way, then something very basic has gone wrong in Syria.

Also Iran ("The worst sort of dictator" in Tufaili's words), the faithful supporter of Syria and Hizbullah, cannot escape Tufaili's criticism: "The Iranian role justifies the battle against Asad, and it was suitable that the Iranians would support an agreement between all segments of Syrian society (i.e.: the surrender of Asad to the demands of his opposition). Tufaili's public support of the Syrian people stems from his feeling that Asad will lose the battle; the people will be the winning side, and it will be worthwhile to the Lebanese in general and to the Shi'ites in particular to invest in the Syrian people and not in the failing regime. The Sheikh's words also relate to the dispute within the Shi'ite community in Lebanon: Hizbullah sends soldiers to Syria to fight for Asad, but Tufaili, who holds the role of "the Responsible Elder", says things that can not be interpreted in any other way except the importance to supporting the Syrian people and not the regime.

The Situation on the Ground

Asad's opposition is strengthening, its military power is growing and its achievements in the field increase from day to day, despite the losses. The losses prove how determined the fighters of the "Free Syrian Army" are to achieve their goal, even at a great price, contrary to the ever-declining morale among the soldiers of the regime, part of whom continue fighting against the regime's opposition only in order not to be executed by their commanders for suspected sympathy with the rebels. "The Free Syrian Army" succeeded within a few days to control areas near the capital, Damascus, and retreated only in order not to give the army of the regime a reason to act with cruelty against the population in these areas. No doubt, the army of the rebels proves that it has the ability to place a real and actual challenge to Asad's army. The number of fatalities in the battles is increasing and reaches almost a hundred fatalities per day, and in parallel, the number of soldiers and officers who desert from Asad's army also increases. Nevertheless, whole divisions have still not deserted, and the military has still not disintegrated.

The state-run media accuses "terror gangs" of betraying the national unity, in the service of "Zionist, colonialist and Otoman" interests, which aspires to dismantle the Arab world and redesign it according to their needs. The heroic Syrian people, in the words of Asad's media, will defeat all those who rise up against it, whether from within or without, the near (Israel, Turkey) or the far (Europe, the United States) and will prove to all that it is stronger than any of their dark schemes.

A special attack by the spokesmen of the regime is merited by the Emirates of the Gulf; especially Qatar, the emirate where the "Al-Jazeera" channel is located. The feeling - which is fairly justified - of Asad and his cronies, is that the emir of Qatar, because of his desire to control the Arab world, decided to overthrow all of the strong rulers, and they feel that the incitement of "Al-Jazeera" was the cause of the demonstrations in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria.

Future Trends

In recent days, hints of two important developments have begun to occur in Syria: One is a series of reports about heavy weapons and large quantities of ammunition that is being transferred to the mountains of Ansariyah, the Alawite area which is located in western Syria, north of Lebanon. The transfer of these armaments can mean only one thing: the Alawites are preparing for the day after the collapse of the regime, and the mass escape of hundreds of thousands of Alawites from the Islamic areas, when they will find that the Muslims are chasing them with unsheathed knives in their hands. The weapons that are being transferred to the Alawite areas are meant to defend the Alawite state that will arise to defend the members of their ethnic community, whom the Muslims see as infidels and idol worshipers.

The second event is a meeting that was held in Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, that included Kurdish notables fro Syria and Iraq. They also discussed "the day after", meaning what would be the territory and status of the Kurds in Syria after they are freed from the oppression that they have endured for decades. They don't see themselves as continuing to live under Arab auspices, and probably they will determine with facts on the ground an area that will serve them when they will have independence, whether wholly or partially, similar to the near total independence that their brothers in Iraq have achieved for themselves. These discussions may even have dealt with participation with, and perhaps even unity between Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan, the meaning of which is that there will be a great challenge to Iran and Turkey, both of which countries have large Kurdish minority communities, that aspire to freedom and human rights.

These two developments show how close to realization is this trend which we have written about in the past, which is the disintegration of the Syrian regime into several states after the fall of the regime.

The International Arena

In this arena too, there have been significant developments within the past two weeks, with the transfer of the Syrian case from the Arab League to the Security Council of the UN, because this international body has the ability to use force against Asad, similar to what happened to Saddam Hussein and Qadhaffi. The Syrian regime failed where the Qatar Emirate succeeded, in transferring the Syrian matter to the international level, and to instill in the world a feeling that the damage caused by the actions of the Syrian regime are beyond the limits of acceptability.

Again this small emirate appears as a force driving the Arab world, for now only with words and resolutions, and the Syrian regime, which for many years bragged that it was "Qiblat Al-aruba", the "Arab direction of prayer", appears now as a mindless regime with no conscience, but with muscles that have gone out of control.

It is true that in the Security Council, Russia and China have permanent membership and the power to veto resolutions that they find to be unsuitable, but there are limits to this too.

The End of the Last Revolutionary

The adults among us still remember the traditional division of the Arab world into states that are radical/revolutionary/progressive/advanced/ on one hand, when Moscow was the "direction of prayer" for them, and opposite these were the states that were based on tribal and religious communities, and they were called: traditional, counter-revolutionary, regressive and backwards. The "progressive" leaders were Gamal Abd Al-Nassar, Hafez al-Asad. Qadhaffi and Saddam Hussein. They adopted the Soviet socialist creed, and translated it into "Arab socialism" in Egypt, and to "Baath" in Syria and Iraq. Hatred towards Israel was supposed to be the glue between the parts of the population, and the battle against her substituted for the battle against poverty, crime, neglect and corruption. But the battle against Israel was abandoned and dealing with the real ills of those states never began. That's why they castigated Israel, America, the West, colonialism, capitalism, and everything that characterizes what they refused to be outwardly, but allowed themselves to adopt in private: Recently, the sumptuous houses of Qadhaffi were revealed. Qadhaffi insisted on receiving visitors in a wide Bedouin tent with canopies that fluttered in the wind, in order to give an impression that he acts in accordance with pure desert, Bedouin tradition, but his private life he spent in debauchery and the hedonistic and Bacchanalian style of decadent Europe.

Ironically, during the past year, all of the "revolutionary" regimes whose goal was to re-engineer Arab societies according to the Soviet Socialist model, were trampled by the traditional groupings: the tribes on one hand and Islam on the other. The process was supposed to take place immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, but in the Middle East processes require much time and courage, and a little bit of organizational prowess, which the Internet and Social networking sites have been supplying lately .

These days Asad is fighting the battle of the last socialist Baathist Mohican who is left in the fort of the Soviet lie, while the waves of Middle Eastern truth are attacking him; the truths of tribalism and loyalty to religion and tradition. And these things threaten to cause him to lose his head, literally. The irony is that it is precisely the Russians who pushed off their shoulders the shame of the "blood flag" that had dominated them for seventy years; and yet they are the ones who continue to breathe life into the dying Syrian regime. This regime is led by "Soviet" Arabic-speaking politruks, who sound from their hoarse throats the worn-out slogans from Moscow during the years of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev in the ears of all, and are left holding the necks of the microphones in Damascus.

The sons of Syria, hungry, thirsty, frozen, bleeding, but lovers of freedom and human rights, are the true revolutionaries, those who are trying to remove the false revolutionaries who took control of the Arab world in the twentieth century by means of foreign ideologies that have never been accepted into the hearts of the general public. The 21st century is the century of the very bitter truth, that prevails throughout the region in which we live: Here, the ruling factors are the tribe, the ethnic group (i.e. the Kurds), the religious group (the Muslim Brotherhood) and the religious sect (Sunni, Shi'ite). Any foreign "ism" from socialism to liberalism - will be rejected by the region like a foreign body that is transplanted into a living body: The body rejects it even if the price is reduced functionality or even death.

Syria today is rejecting the infidel and socialist Asad, who doesn't even know how to spell the word socialism, just as a traditional Islamic region rejects infidels and importation of empty ideologies.

The imported ideology is dead, long live the indigenous loyalties to the tribe, ethnicity, religion and sect.

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Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the
Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally.

Links to Dr. Kedar's recent articles on this blog:
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

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