Saturday, March 05, 2005

Bashar, the Anti-Bush

Everyone in Damascus is waiting for the President’s 6:00 speech to the People’s Assembly with baited breath. The country is not only in a regional struggle for control of Lebanon, but it is part of a much larger philosophical struggle over the nature of the Middle East. Little Syria has, despite itself, become the axis on which larger world questions revolve. Are the neoconservatives right? Has President Bush’s revolutionary foreign policy, based as it is on the use of force to create the liniments of democracy, been vindicated? Is his strategy for remaking the larger Middle East on the verge of fulfillment?

President Bashar has become the Anti-Bush. Where the US President preaches revolution and claims that military force must be used to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East, Asad stands for preserving the status-quo. The Middle East is not ready for democracy and freedom, he argues. Its tribal and religious divisions make it “a volcano ready to erupt,” as he once said. Syria has offered stability to the region for 35 years by managing the tribal conflicts that threaten civil war and social chaos, Asad insists. If Syria pulls out of Lebanon, it will return to civil war. If Syria reforms too quickly, there will be social strife. America’s invasion of Iraq brought nothing but chaos and death to Iraqi. It has failed, he argues. America and Israel are the problem, he maintains. George Bush insists Syria is the problem.

Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon may be about the alteration of the balance of power in a small corner of the Middle East, but it is also about a much greater alteration in the larger Middle East as well as an alteration in the way foreign policy will be carried out in the 21st century.

Syria is the last leg holding up the increasingly wobbly edifice of Arab nationalism. Many in America would like to kick out this last pedestal and bring down the house that Gamal Abdul Nasser and the Baath built.

Every Arab country has adopted a policy of me first. King Abdullah has been the loudest and most open in proclaiming a policy of Jordan first. But as one Arab country after another has fallen in step with America’s diplomacy, they too have adopted the me first strategy. Saddat, of course, did it first, leading to Egypt’s isolation and his assassination, decades before Hariri’s. But all the other Arab leaders have followed suit, some quietly and others with more fanfare, such as Muammar Qadhafi.

If Syria pulls out of Lebanon swiftly and completely, as it should, it will have given up on Arab nationalism – at least, in everything but name. The constitution will still trumpet that Syria is only “a region of the Arab nation,” and the Baath Party will still claim it stands for “Arab Unity,” but they will be nothing but folkloric relics of a rapidly disappearing creed. Syria claims that it will “protect the Arabism of Lebanon.” But without a military presence in Lebanon, only the Lebanese will be able to decide their identity.

Syria will be left no choice but to join the “me first” generation of Arab states. Many reformists here are gambling that Bashar will do just that – quite possibly even announcing an ambitious and reinvigorated agenda of internal reforms to deflect his foreign embarrassments and turn the recent struggle inward. There is no telling if he will do this. I doubt he will. It would require a revolution.

Could George Bush be right? Is the use of American might and pressure going to transform the Middle East? The end of the road in Iraq, or even Lebanon, is not in sight. As yet, we don’t know if things will settle into a new and freer rhythm or if Bashar’s warnings are more than bluff. In the meantime, even the doubters – and I count myself amongst them – must give President Bush a winning score at half-time.

20 Comments:

At 3/05/2005 01:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is this continuous BS about not being ready for democracy? There is no such thing as being ready for democracy. Democracy is an experience to taken and a tradition to be developed. If we do not start it then we will never be ready for it. It is just like walking for a 2 year old baby. They try and try and fall and cry until they get it right. We can not keep the baby wrapped in a crib for 40 years and claim that he is never ready to walk. We have to start. Instead of making these ridiculous annoying laughs during your speech and having your "yes sir" crowd laugh at them, you are only making no sense when you say we are not ready for democracy since we will never be especially when you are around. And also why should it take a global humiliation for him to address the Syrian people which he never cared to do before except when he inherited the post? It is pathetic how this guy views the Syrian people. A Shepard gives more dignity to his sheep than Bashar gives the Syrian people. Treating Syrians like children has transformed Bashar into a monster to scare Syrians.

 
At 3/05/2005 01:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syria is not ready for a full on democracy, the istitutions are not in place; opposition parties are non existant in their organization; no substantial middle class; all of which are necessary for true democracy. This idea of a child learning how to walk is a key to disaster. The ideal would be for Bashar to reform the bath party into a transparent one where elections are held within it. Allowing opposition groups to begin "peaceful" activity.
I agree with notion that Syria should take the Syria first attitude since clearly the "Arab" definition is no longer valid. Our whole way of upbringing thinking that we are all brothers is not for me anymore.
I am abit disappoited that Bashar did not announce a complete pullout, since most Syrians want it and most lebanese want it as well.

 
At 3/05/2005 02:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonym 1:32,
1- Did Romania Have any democratic institutions when they rid themselves from their dictator? If we have no parties and are not allowed to have any, how can we start?
2- Why would Bashar want to make his subjects want to take the foot of the Baath off their heads? Why should he give parties when the sole objective to these parties (if they are not just cosmetic) is to try to through him and his Baath out of power? Which one is the naive person here?

Bashar will do nothing to encourage democracy as it is his true enemy that will through him out of power. He will keep enforcing these ideas that we are not ready for democracy. We were the first democratic Arab country and we lost it for the sake of the Pan Arab cause and not because we were not ready for it. It is our romantic nature that made us loose it and not our inability to make it function. People should try it and learn by experience who to choose the right people to rule and get rid of the wrong crowd as they involve themselves with a few bad democratic experiences. We were never a sectarian society and we do have an ethnic and religious majority that chose democratically in the past a Kurdish president, a Circassian president and a Christian Prime Minister. Prior to Assad, we Syrians never disagreed on anything but ideology and not along ethnic and religious backgrounds. It is only Assad when he came he used this point to enforce and strengthen his rule.
With democracy we will far surpass the expectations of many pessimists like Anonym 1:32.

 
At 3/05/2005 02:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey 2:04 Anon, although everything you said is historically correct, Syria today is not what it used to be. I would love you to walk around any syrian city and see for yourself who the majority is, and what kind of democracy we will get. A "democracy" which you dream of and describe will have a heavy islamic face. And if you think there will be no sectarian violence think again. Listen to the sunni majority and see how they refer to the minorities (one in specific). I respect your opinion, but i think you are being the naive one. unless you feel anarchy is a choice then hey, what can I say.

 
At 3/05/2005 02:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey 2:04 Anon, although everything you said is historically correct, Syria today is not what it used to be. I would love you to walk around any syrian city and see for yourself who the majority is, and what kind of democracy we will get. A "democracy" which you dream of and describe will have a heavy islamic face. And if you think there will be no sectarian violence think again. Listen to the sunni majority and see how they refer to the minorities (one in specific). I respect your opinion, but i think you are being the naive one. unless you feel anarchy is a choice then hey, what can I say.

 
At 3/05/2005 02:53:00 PM, Blogger Tina said...

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the soldiers and the NGOs began having classes in democracy on the local level. Every town, every village. Soon, the people began to understand the theory of democracy. A lot of people do not realize it, but the Iraqi people voted in local elections over a year ago and they elected their town councils.

Through that experience, they began to understand the power, and responsibility of the people. It didn't take them very long at all to understand and like what they were seeing.

 
At 3/05/2005 03:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a sunny walking the Syrian cities on daily basis. Just because I am writing in English does not mean I am not from the heart of the Sunny majority. While Islam may be the only left ideology in every home, people do not have a clear idea on how to develope it into a style of government. With proportional representation (this means the country is devided into areas with equal population and people in each area elect a single representative to parliament) people will only vote for individuals and not a specific party (since none exist at this time). In time parties will develope and maybe an Islamic party might win, but only under the umberella of democracy (just like in Turkey. It is only safe to assume that as people we are a bit like the Turks and a bit like the Lebanese and a bit like the Iraqis.
As for the "hate of Alawis by Sunnis" which many of my Alawi friends are scared of, I would like to point out that most sunnies understand that a small number of Alawis are benefiting from the Assads. The Majority of Alawis are still belonging to the most deprived group of people and they are very poor. Even in Qordaha, many homes are terribly poor.
Remember that Sunnies were never part of the Lebanese civil war and they can not agree on any form of leadership (this is the best thing about sunnies(not wahabies)), and keeping their religion away from any governement. I am not naive, I only confident that we (Syrians) are not as bad as the Baathist would like us to beleive we are. We can take care of ourselves. It is just that people are thinking too much like you and seeing no way out of their current enslavement.

 
At 3/05/2005 03:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Tina,
the Iraqi argument at this time is not very convincing for trying democracy in syria. I would try using it after the departure of US troops. Hopefully, you will still be able to use it. We hope soon.

 
At 3/05/2005 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Lebanese said...

BAchar's speech was insulting to all LEbanese. I am appalled that in this day and age of light speed communication, a president can still tell his people lies. Every single lebanese citizen hates the syrian regime; they may not admit to it, but that is due to a problem that the syrians are familiar with: fear and "intelligence ops" everywhere. Bachar will bring disaster to syria, just like his father did to LEbanon. His departure is inevitable. We will fight him, forever if that is what it takes. ANd by the way, we are not syrians as he intimated

 
At 3/05/2005 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This BS about Islam being the result of Democracy is nonsense. Syrians are not even as close as the palestinian to acting on their beliefs and yet the palestinians did not vote the Islamic movements in power. I do not see the Syrians voting any Islamic party in power because we do not have any Islamic leader by far. Historically, when we had democracy, we never used voted any ideological or religious party in power. We only voted for social parties like the National Party and The People's party. These two had no ideological agendas but only social agendas. The Baath National soocialist, the Communist, the Brotherhood, and the The Syrian National parties had very few representations and this is why they tried (and succeeded) to come to power by means of a revolution. Syrians will never vote autocratic party into power again regardless of being Islamic or Buddist

 
At 3/05/2005 05:36:00 PM, Anonymous Friend in America said...

These are excellent comments from considerate writers. But, I do not think the Syria-in-Lebanon story is over. I am watching for (1) deployment of troops from another country (Iran is most likley) along the Golan and other borders, (2) resistance to removal of Syrian intelligence forces - which Lebanonese opposition will continue to demand, (3) demands by Hizbollah that foreign troops stay to protect them from aggresion by Israel (Syria and Iran are Hizbollah's sponsor), (4) civil disturbances started by Hizbollah (at guess who's instance) which Syria will then use to justify staying, (5) possible UN decision to bring an international force into Lebanon to require a 100% withdrawl. This story will go on for months, I expect. Comments from others are invited.

 
At 3/05/2005 07:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as an American--who is both Syrian and Lebanese... I'm very concerned about how it seems that anything that bad that happens over in the region now is immediately blamed on Syria somehow or way. Yes, Syria should get out of Lebanon. They have enough to do in their own country. All my life I've never really heard much about Syria in the news and now it's all that seems to be covered. Bush is a hypacrit for demanding Syria out of Lebanon but not Israel out of Palestine.

 
At 3/05/2005 08:01:00 PM, Anonymous Friend i America said...

To 7:21 Anon: There has been little in western newspapers about Syria for years, for sure. But an international crisis is like honey split on the ground...it attracts the attention of a lot of flies. And there is an international crisis here (and i am one of the flies).
I think if you look at what has happened in the past 4 months, there are significant developments in Israeli withdrawl (but we should remember the story is not over - pressure may be applied to Hizbollah to make a full withdrawl impossible). It is not hypocritical to work on a new fire just because other projects have not been resolved. It is just working on problems as they come. World events don't happen by a controlled agenda. No country can say don't start a fire now because we have not finished elsewhere.

 
At 3/05/2005 09:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democracy for the Lebanese since slice bread is no more than just Copycatting, Banner holding, Face decorating, and Mouth Babbling. In the Old Days the French bloody Revolution was the model for their struggle against the Druze and the Palestinians! And now the UUkraine Model?!!! Man… Nothing! Nothing genuine in Lebanon in every aspect of its life …Social, Political, and even Economical! The Lebanese know very well the very person inside of themselves an ego-centered arrogant one who adores mounting even at the stake. Lebanese (like most Middle Easters) will always look at their own co-citizen down. Do Christians look at the poor Shiias as equal citizens? Are the Druze considered as patriots to the other Lebanese? Give the reality break for the sake of the crescent and cross!!… Is Shadi grown up now and he’s heading back home to Jesus blessed Antelias? Are the Lebanese now more mature and more civilized that will never go under another devastating civil war(s)? Let me tell you these my friends in order to culminate the book of any civil war you have to have a winner at the end. Bolshevik Revolution and the American Civil War are good examples. In the Lebanese civil war who won? None… Yes, the sentiments of bitterness and unfairness are awaiting there to inflame the public or should I say the sect? (Yallah In’oum Ya Shabab!). Ok, now after Al-Harriri assassination, this sentiment is shrewdly capitalized and channeled against the Syrians. What about after they are gone?

SYRIANS Troops between the Fact and the Symbol.
I agree with ya all on all the atrocities made by the Syrians in Lebanon and ultimately that they have to leave. “It is” better for both people (maybe not for both governments) But what concerns me as many is the vacuum power left after they leave. Who will benefit of that emptiness? And who will fill it out? A fellow Lebanese might ask what do we have to do “Wait!” for how long and for what? Would these Megalomaniacs, Boot kissing, Stupid smiling, Marlboro smuggling Syrians change something in their own house? they wont. Again, I want the Syrian government to leave Lebanon but not the Syrian ties social and economical they complete each other no matter what we say. What I am against is the snobbish rather foolish way of some Lebanese demonstrates their anger against Syria or Syrians.
What it hurts are those same demonstrators against Syria in the Streets of Washington, Boston, Dallas, Paris, Dubai…etc were just few month ago shouting and rioting along with other groups against Bush’s policy in The Middle East (just before The Election!). Now they’re supporting Bush! Gee! For the same Policy! I know it hurts many Lebanese especially abroad that they are linked to Syria and Syria is linked to terrorism. Remember! They Love to assimilate (nothing genuine) with such linkage they simply cannot. As if they have no history of home-style flavor of terrorism or mass killing (Sabra and Shatila). Granted! They even participated in world’s shocking 9/11. Now tell me that the Syrian (Man! I hate to say that word) Intelligence behind Aljara7. They just wanna get off the Syrian yoke no matter what. However, the sour fact will always chase the people of Le Grand Liban everywhere they go that they are Airrrabs.

 
At 3/06/2005 12:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is ironic that the Arab world is fracturing at the same time that Europe is unifying. Maybe it suits Bush to have a lot of minnows he can just ignore.

 
At 3/06/2005 02:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For now...Europe problems will be shown in 5-10 years. The big problem is the European culture of equalitarism.

The 3 reasons for current positive paths are:

1- Situation in Arabic world have been degraded.

2- Technology constant evolution revolutionalises communications means dictatorships lost control of information.

3- Bush tought that best defense against Bin Laden and radical islam was to attack, so he choosed Iraq as the best country to change, this is important because a message of hope
was needed.
In such Bin Laden was forced to fight there because it was a challenge that he couldnt afford to loose, a democratic Iraq is the worst thing that could have happened. Bush in that denied that Bin Laden would choose the battlefield ( we just have to imagine what if Wahabi resources wouldnt have been spent in Iraq but elsewhere) and transformed Bin Laden in a regionalist instead of a world terrorist.

I have no doubts that Bin Laden attack in US was a tentative to push Western out of Middle East and to takeover the power over decrepit Pan-Arab socialist governements.

 
At 3/06/2005 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Tina said...

Anonymous 12:36. I disagree. One of the most heartening things we discovered about the Arab world in Iraq is the intelligence and work ethic of the people. They will not be small minnows that can be brushed away. With freedom to think and grow economically there is no reason to doubt that the Arab world, freed of it's chains, will surpass the EU on the not too distant future.

The one constant that we heard in letters from our soldiers is "these are good, hard working people". That's quite a compliment coming from troops that work 12 hour days with no breaks.

 
At 3/06/2005 02:16:00 PM, Anonymous Friend in America said...

To 9:06 Annon: I share with you the serious concerns expressed in your comments. Political change after removal of foreign domination, is not enough. There needs to be a cultural (attitude) change also, a change to greater acceptance of all peoples. And that task will require persistence and patience. But, I submit, that change is unlikely when a country is under the thumb of another country's secret police which will play one group off against another.
I wonder how serious the "political vacuum" will be. Elections are due on May 7 - that's not far off. Elsewhere, a temporary ("interim") government has calmed similar anxieties. Maybe it will here.
I think the pervasiveness of Syria's intellegence agents (who are the most likly suspects in the Hairi assassination) and Syrian taxation of the Lebanonese are the driving force for public demands for withdrawl. Do you agree?
And a p.s.: put little significance on those "public demonstrations" in Boston, Dallas, Paris and elsewhere. Small in numbers, almost all of the demonstrators are Lebanese expatriates, not long standing American or French citizens. These demonstrations help bring like minded expatriates together. But, their influence is slight (fortunately or unfortunately depending upon one's viewpoint). Often the demonstrators are young people, who end up having a party afterwards. Especially Boston, where there are over 150 educational institutions. For example, about 25% of the students at Boston University (which has a very large enrollment) are from foreign countries (Lebanese students have attended this college for over 3 decades).
A question: is the political situation similar to the Ukraine crisis last fall? I would welcome reading a careful analysis. My regards,

 
At 3/06/2005 02:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The liniments of democracy? Do you mean the vestments/habiliments/trappings/outward appearance of democracy - its clothing - or do you mean ligaments - its connective tissue - or do you mean liminality - its threshold? Which of these would Syrians most want? Probably not actual liniments.

 
At 7/23/2005 03:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born in Syria in 1982. Back then, many countries were under dictatorial control.

However this is not 1982. We at the moment are in 2005. Syria cannot remain in the past. I cannot believe the amount of people that are not open to the ideas of democracy. Dictatorships in and of themselves deprive you, the ordinary citizen, of a better future. Take a look at how European governments developed after WW2. They are now well off rich nations. Is Syria breaks out of its anti-democratic views, it could bring a whole new perspective to its citizens. After all, Turkey, yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq are now democratic. Why should Syria be left behind?

 

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