Syria Needs an Honest Broker

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A Syrian man feeds pigeons at Al-Marjeh Square in central Damascus. (Photo: AFP - Joseph Eid)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Monday, September 5, 2011

There are now two contests in Syria. The first is domestic. It pits protesters, plus armed groups of various hues, against a regime that continues to see security as the main remedy at this stage. The second is external, a face-off between two camps: one led from afar by the United States, the other by Iran. China and Russia, meanwhile, stand wherever they think their broader regional and global interests are served best.

“Moderate” Arabs clamoring for change in Syria are pathetic. Saudi Arabia leads an alliance of Gulf states, most of whom do not even have constitutions, and yet it is demanding reform in Syria and a transition to elected government and denouncing the use of force against protesters. The advice of these states — without in any way attempting to justify the Syrian authorities’ repression and killing of innocents — raises some questions.

Would the Saudi regime care to remind us how it confronts al-Qaeda militants or deals with its own citizens’ political protests and demands? Or how it fixes its backward bureaucratic state system? Or how it distributes the world’s biggest stash of oil wealth among its population? Or how it sends troops to Bahrain to kill, crush, and torture demonstrators out of base sectarian and political motives?

And does Qatar really believe that by doling out cash, owning Al Jazeera, and hosting opposition conferences, it can mastermind the process of change in the Arab world? Is it not aware that it is a small country with no indigenous capacity to speak of, and that by over-reaching it enters the eye of a fast-gathering storm? Does someone in Doha imagine that the situation in Syria — where the sharp division in society is real, not spun or imagined — can be overturned by media pressure? Or do developments in Libya encourage them to attempt a repeat performance? Is there nobody around to warn that in such matters — as when handling explosives — you only get one chance to blunder?

Does the UAE think it is so highly-developed as a state that it can give lessons on the subject of state-building? Perhaps it has a surplus of multi-party democracy, which it feels compelled to export. Does this fragile house of cards not sense that a mere sneeze from a neighbor could bring it tumbling down? Or is it too dazzled by Abu Dhabi’s racist security regime, Dubai’s construction bubble, and Sharjah’s status as a distinguished cultural hub?

Do these parties have the right to speak in the name of the Arab people, or to pontificate about change and reform when they waste enough of their own countries’ wealth to feed everyone in Africa? Perhaps they think that since the West gave them a mandate to intervene, they represent the might of NATO that is about to face some dark days in Libya. Their own records certainly don’t qualify them to lecture others on how to treat their citizens or neighbors.

Yet even if they think they can delude Arab and international public opinion about what is currently happening in Syria, do they suppose that Syrians themselves will believe what is being reported about some of their towns and neighborhoods? Or do they rely on the fact that the dissidents of different persuasions are unlikely to contradict them or challenge much of what is broadcast on Al Jazeera — which has become even more unprofessional than the Al Arabiya channel that was set up to bad-mouth the House of Saud’s enemies? Don’t they know that the Libya scam has begun to unravel? And for whose sake do they inflame sectarian differences and tensions in Syria, and then go on to say that is what the regime wants?

Another point needs to be made about Syrian opposition figures inside or outside Syria. Many, perhaps most, are patriots whose records speak for themselves. The Syrian authorities are insane if they think they can wreck their public standing by ignoring, arresting, or defaming them. But it is also true that alongside these there are some figures, fond of TV appearances and jetting between conferences, who have been learning how to play for power. They are no different from any despot or autocrat. They are hired hands working for foreign employers. They are eager to see weapons brought in. They want a Libya-style scenario to unfold, with NATO warplanes bombing their country, while they wait for the regime’s downfall to be announced on TV.

It remains to be said that the absence of a serious mediator between the regime and its opponents is the fault of both sides. They need to agree — even if they don’t announce it — on some figure, government, or political body than can act as an honest broker. One that can bridge the chasm between them and persuade both that the right concessions lead to the right solution. Otherwise, Syria risks facing a bleak future, and — with much of the outside world intent on destroying the country and what it stands for in the region — the prospect of an unstoppable major explosion.

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

This article is translated from the Arabic Edition.


Democratization means to provide a "just" environment for election. It is not at all necessary for participants (candidates) to hold a reconciliation conference in advance. No need to agree on anything because each politician has his own agenda. What is important for you is to win the election.

External oppositions are explicitly receiving financial and material assistance from foreign entities, and therefore, they are prohibited to enter the domestic political scene, as is the case in any other country on earth. (Refer to the election law.)

To give a ministerial post to an unknown person who has lived for many years abroad, and who hasn't won the election, with the help of foreign governments cannot be called "democracy."

Border can be protected by creating a long mine field. Although it cost a bit, it is possible because total economic damages Syria suffered so far is enormous, so worth doing.

As always you hit the nail on the head! thanks (and a thanks to the translator)

That's funny. It almost sounded like you equated the two sides in Syria.


Absolutely, Syria needs an honest broker. However, this broker can neither be Saudi Arabia nor Iran; neither Sa`ad al Hariri nor Hassan Nassrallah. All of them are part of the problem (not the solution) for Syria, just as they are the problem (not the solution) for Lebanon.

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