Coming to Terms With Assad’s Survival

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President Syria's Bashar al-Assad (2nd L) and his wife Asma (L) help pack aid supplies with volunteers at a food distribution center set up at the Al-Fahya stadium in Damascus on 16 April. (Photo: AFP - HO - SANA)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Friday, April 20, 2012

The hard facts about the Syrian crisis today mean that the ouster of President Bashar Assad is contingent on his enemies’ ability to assassinate him. Barring that eventuality, everything remains hypothetical.

The regime’s Syrian opponents are in no shape to draft a joint plan of action. The fact that their policies, funding, and operations are determined externally reflects a structural crisis in the Syrian opposition. There is no way out of their current situation other than to adopt policies which repudiate collaboration with the Arab and Western parties that do not want a strong Syria.

Up until now, the crisis has witnessed violent waves of protests, accompanied by a regional and international onslaught aimed at toppling Assad. Failure to achieve that goal ushered in a new stage, featuring an open-ended war of attrition.

This war is employing all available weapons: from indefinite economic and financial siege aimed at incapacitating an already ailing state, to sponsoring armed action against the state and its military, security, and civilian institutions. It also entails an unprecedented degree of sectarian mobilization, whose impact may be gradual, but is potent in terms of fuelling divisions of the kind that imperil the cohesion of societies worldwide.

Let us presume that the regime’s Syrian opponents do not want to rethink their plans, or have a different reading of developments which prompts them to continue as they are. But are their calculations the same as those of their supporters – be they political forces, states, or people? Accordingly, is it politically or morally justified to leave matters to those whose handling of the most serious national crisis Syria has experienced in ages has proven to be a dismal failure?

The backers of the plan to topple Assad base their approach to the Syrian crisis on the premise that there can be no coexistence with the current regime in Damascus, and that it is incapable of taking Syria forward while preserving its stability, social peace, and national interests. They behave as though they are superpowers, or have the capacity to turn the tables whenever they choose, or to provide the diverse components of the Syrian opposition with the tools it needs in this struggle. They forget that they are outside the decision-making circle and that the only roles available to them are as extras, nothing more or less. They are confined to making declarations, issuing statements, and engaging in other forms of plasma-screen warfare.

If they feel that the least they can do is take a moral stand, they are free to do so. Nobody can deny them that right. But freedom of speech – as one could remind the Lebanese, who pride themselves on enjoying a considerable amount of it – is meaningless when it does not translate into the power to make an impact or hold to account.

Political realism makes it incumbent now to prepare not for the “post-Assad stage,” but for the “post-Assad’s survival” stage. If all Assad’s detractors want is the satisfaction of being able to say, years or decades from now, that they foretold his demise 40 years previously, they can have it. But in the meantime, they should take us all a bit more seriously and cease this outpouring of tasteless jokes – especially when they regale us with talk of the great democratic transformation that is awaiting us.

This talk is hypothetical, much like the statements and promises made by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The organization’s supporters currently dominate the popular scene in most Arab countries. But its behavior has proven very similar to that of the Shia groups that have controlled Iraq for nearly a decade, and whose sole concern is to exact revenge for the years of exclusion, imprisonment, and exile they experienced.

Is this not the case with today’s ascendant Islamists? They have rapidly adopted the ploys used by the governments they replaced. In Tunisia, the Ennahda “family” has started gathering positions of political and economic power into its hands. In Egypt, “either us or nobody” sums up the MB’s approach to matters parliamentary, constitutional, and presidential. In Libya, the question of sharia law has been left to the tribes, while the state and its resources, or its former resources, have been left to the ravages of the militias and their American, French, and British backers, along with a gaggle of Arab and other opportunists.

In Yemen, meanwhile, the problem is that nobody knows where the Islamists stand and thus how to handle them. In Morocco and Jordan they have made political deals, and they are attempting a comeback in Algeria now. In the Levant, all we have seen of them so far is the latent violence which has been expressed physically in the bloody episodes of the Syrian crisis, and verbally in Lebanon.

As for the remainder of the Arab world, Iraq has had ample experience with many variants of them during and since the occupation, while Wahhabism prevails over the “mother of battles” in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula.

Congratulations to the Arab revolutionaries of all seasons, those throngs of opportunists, killers, and colonial agents that are filling the corridors of power, and the worlds of money and media.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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