On the Tragedy of Two Revolutions in Egypt and Syria

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A young Egyptian sells key rings and portraits of Egypt's military commander Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is to run for the presidency in the upcoming elections, along with portraits of Egypt's late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser (top-R) in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on January 28, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Mohamed el-Shahed)

By: Jean Aziz

Published Thursday, January 30, 2014

It is an interesting and bizarre coincidence that two developments in two revolutions would occur simultaneously. In Egypt, the army returns to power on the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. In Syria, the representative of revolutionary legitimacy, Ahmad al-Jarba, stands in Geneva to thank Cairo for hosting 30,000 Syrian refugees but neglects to mention Beirut, where the number of Syrian refugees is more than half the number of the Lebanese population.

The developments in Egypt were expected. More than two years ago, this columnist wrote the following headline “Army, Muslim Brotherhood, and Minorities,” arguing that this is basically our region, and specifically, this is Egypt. It consists of three elements: physical coercion, represented by the army; divine coercion, represented by religion (and its backbone in this region, symbolized by the Muslim Brotherhood); and between the two is the element of human creativity, represented by the minorities.

Minorities in our region are not strictly religious, and they are not minoritarian groups marshaled in line by the institution of religion. What is meant by minorities in this context is everybody who is outside the military and Muslim Brotherhood categories. They include women, intellectuals, and humanists of all religions, and of Islam first and foremost, before we talk about other religions.

In this region, and in Egypt specifically, nothing exists beyond these three components, to the extent that the triangle inequality theorem applies. The sum of any two sides of a triangle must be greater than the measure of the third side. So on January 25, 2011, the minorities formed an alliance with the Brotherhood, and the military became a minority.

Then, a year of exclusionary politics under the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule propelled the minorities to make a deal with the army. Mohamed Mursi fell, and General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi came to power with all the rituals of the dictator, from the blood spilled at Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque to the mysterious dark glasses. There it was, the aura of a man called by destiny, on display in the image of the young Abdel-Fattah saluting the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, incarnating, from that moment, a tinge of the divine to become the second Nasser.

All this is going on in Egypt while its real revolutionary symbols are forgotten, some of them actually behind bars under both Mursi and Sisi.

But there might be something else going on in Egypt, something in the formative element of a nation, something genetic, a congenital condition that has to do with the moment of a nation’s birth and therefore with every subsequent moment of its life. Something that stays with it as though it were the “basic personality” of a human being or the archetype of a group. The history of some nations reveals that they do not change in some of their fundamental or constituent concepts, and foremost among those is the concept of power.

Take Russia, for instance. It is a nation that had more than one revolution. It paid the price of these revolutions with millions of lives and bitter wars. But somehow it is still the same. As though it cannot live unless it is ruled by a tzar, it cannot enjoy stability except in his mighty grip. As if this tzar is part of its genetic code. It might look like the country is changing. It rebels, rises, and falls, but then runs back into his arms, reassured by his power and authority, whether he is a Romanov, a Stalin, or a Putin.

Is Cairo Moscow’s sister in this sense? Is it created with another genetic code called pharaoh and pharaoh’s rule? Millennia go by between its Nile. The dunes change and the banks surge, but Egypt always lays its anchors at pharaoh’s feet.

On the other side, the Syrian revolution welters in tragedy. The protest movement against the regime was born outside the Syrian trinity of the army, Brotherhood, and minorities. It carved another space for itself, which was often the space of the authentic left. Despite its connection with names from various regional and religious affiliations, it remained outside the bloody opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood from the late 1960s till today. It remained outside the Baath party, as well. And certainly outside the logic of the alliance of minorities, which had formed a formidable Syrian majority when a large Sunni bloc joined the regime’s alliance against the Brotherhood’s unilateralism.

That is how the real and authentic Syrian revolution was, outside the dominant categories. It created for itself a unique ideological language in order to justify itself and its existence.

At the beginning of the third millennium, a Lebanese newspaper published a special supplement about this opposition at the heyday of the Damascus Spring. This step was taken in coordination with some figures in the Qornet Shehwan Gathering in Lebanon, whose members opposed Syrian presence and tutelage. The supplement published writings by nearly all the members of that Syrian opposition.

But their Lebanese colleagues were surprised and shocked to learn that there are two issues at the heart of that opposition. First, they considered the Bashar al-Assad regime a US agent, a puppet of its imperialist project and a malicious enforcer of its goals in their country and the region. Second, the primary example of this collaboration was the fact that the Assad regime found it easy to recognize Lebanon as an independent state and tried to compensate for this recognition by dominating its smaller neighbor politically and making it a satellite state.

That was the nucleus of the Syrian opposition movement. When members of this opposition had the chance to be part of a revolution and to assume power, they found themselves allied with the United States, which is an accusation they leveled at the regime. They also found themselves isolated from Lebanon, which they had accused the regime of abandoning. That is how this opposition entered into a conflict with itself, tearing asunder its political thought, psyche, discourse, and language to the point of confusion and contradiction.

Only Jarba tried, consciously or subconsciously, to be in harmony with his previous self, albeit on one issue. He did not thank Lebanon and did not even mention it, because, in his mind, it does not exist. Syrians taking refuge in Lebanon is tantamount to internal displacement. It is Greater Syria, after all, from which the Jarba clan, and his family specifically, hail. A history book written two centuries ago recounts how the Jarba family, even then, was a client of the Wahhabis. It is Greater Syria then, in harmony with a fallen self, and an illusion of an eastern Andalusia, upstaging even the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

It is the tragedy of two revolutions in a land that proves once again that the earth turns around itself.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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