A Real Crisis in Syria

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Syrians walk past destroyed buildings in Al-Bab in the northern province of Aleppo on 1 September 2012. (Photo: AFP - Achilleas Zavallis)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Has the discussion really been closed on what position to take on Syria?

Must one be able to sum up a complete view of a multi-faceted crisis in a single word, or else not be worth listening to or debating – whether in agreement, disagreement, or some of either?

Do people, wherever they are, have to make up their minds and take a categorical moral, political, intellectual and professional stand that says either “yes” or “no”?

Are we to succumb to the growing dogmatism of both sides in the Syrian crisis, and let them dictate our attitudes?

Is this such an unprecedented occurrence that it is incumbent on all – whether individuals, groups, peoples or states – to reduce their position to supporting one or the other?

Are the facts available, whether to ordinary people or experts, sufficient, or comprehensive and accurate enough, to base a final and clear stand on?

Is the Syrian crisis so uncomplicated and unchanging, bereft of shifts in policy and behavior, that one can be compelled to declare oneself simply “for” or “against”?

The only truth we can affirm without any qualification is that the United States of America and the colonial West in general are, along with Israel, the real enemies of our people, and that these powers have persuaded a considerable proportion of our compatriots that the actual enemy is in our midst – that the enemy is one of us, that the priority must be to weaken and confront it, and that to think otherwise is a waste of time. It is this which has prompted some to believe and assert that the above truth no longer holds, and that the reality is different, hence the position they currently take.

There is a real crisis in Syria, one facet of which is domestic. It relates to the demands of a people living under an oppressive regime which denied the country a healthy political life, adopted economic and social policies that worsened conditions for the poor and inhabitants of the countryside, kept the spoils in the hands of a small clique of loyalists, and subjected its domestic opponents to many forms of repression and persecution.

The crisis also has a regional facet. This relates to the political stance taken by Syria over the past four decades, which made it a major player that did not, unlike others, subscribe to American plans in the region. That comes at a cost, politically, economically, socially and in terms of development.

Another facet of the crisis is directly related to the conflict with Israel. Syria successfully led an effective resistance movement which produced impressive results in Lebanon and Palestine, and played a big role in expelling the American occupation from Iraq. That comes at an even greater cost, making Syria a constant target for Israeli aggression. In the past, this drew the Syrian army into major confrontations, from wars with Israel on Syrian territory to battles with Israel and its allies in Lebanon, for which it paid with thousands of lives over the years. It also spurred efforts to besiege and isolate Syria as much as possible – diplomatically, politically, economically and in other ways.

There is also a facet of the crisis linked to the resolve of some Arab and Western countries to recoup their losses in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine by taking over Syria, even if that means destroying it house by house. This is unachievable without relying on the domestic factor. Such a battle can only be fought with the participation of Syrians.

In this sense, one needs to see the complete picture, and decide accordingly what view to take when required to declare a stand.

This picture shows that it was the Syrian regime’s disregard of the people’s need for real and radical change, and its reliance on other sources of power, which caused the outbreak of the crisis against the backdrop of the Arab uprisings, and prompted part of the Syrian people to take to the streets demanding change.

But it also helps explain why the Syrian uprising was never going to be similar to what happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya or Bahrain. This is not only because the Syrian people are different, the Syrian regime is very different, and Syria’s political, sectarian and minority divisions are different too. It is also, more importantly, because foreign influence in Syria is highly restricted and confined. The confrontation thus assumed unclear features, whereas the demands made by the popular uprising had been clear, before people emerged to speak on its behalf and give it a different agenda.

It also explains why the West and its Arab allies were so quick to hijack the Syrian uprising, and make it subject it to considerations other than Syrian people’s. This hijacking, coupled with the regime’s refusal to make radical changes, turned Syria into the stage for a confrontation that is not about the condition and aspirations of the Syrian people. The result is the open-ended conflict underway at present.

We have no qualms about saying that what is happening in Syria today is not a revolution, and cannot be called a revolution, however much those who profit from doing so try.

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

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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