Monday, March 20, 2006

"Was Syria right to hail Hamas' victory?" by Ibrahim Hamidi

Ibrahim Hamidi has written an interesting think piece in which he imagines what the world will be like for Damascus now that "Syria is surrounded by Islamic regimes or groups that have used elections to gain power."

Was Syria right to hail Hamas' victory?

By Ibrahim Hamidi
Commentary by
Monday, March 20, 2006

Syria might be heralding it as a victory, but Hamas' success in the recent Palestinian legislative elections holds out a number of long-term challenges to the Baath regime with regards to Syrian domestic politics. The Syrian regime was emboldened by the Hamas victory for several reasons. Hamas is a longtime ally and a major regional "political card" for Syria that it has repeatedly refused to surrender in the face of American pressure. When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Syria in May 2003, a key demand he presented to President Bashar Assad was expulsion of the leaders of the 10 Damascus-based Palestinian organizations, particularly Khaled Meshaal, chairman of Hamas' Politburo.

In the run-up to that meeting, Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa (recently named vice-president) met with Palestinian officials. While they "agreed" to voluntarily close their official offices in Damascus, the Syrian regime allowed "some refugees playing a political and informational role" to remain. This helped the regime keep all its options open, since supporting the Palestinian cause is a pillar of its legitimacy.

As the United States faced growing difficulties in Iraq in late 2005, Damascus went on the offensive to deflect American pressures following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This process began in September, when Assad received the leaders of the Damascus-based Palestinian groups at the presidential palace. Then, last January 17, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met the same leaders on the margins of talks he held in Damascus with Assad. Central to those discussions was the formation of an alliance between Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. Hamas' upset win in the Palestinian elections on January 26 transformed the party from what had been described a "terrorist organization harbored by Damascus" to a legitimate movement.

In a news conference in Damascus on January 28, Meshaal declared his party's victory as the first step toward "dismantling the wall of isolation" surrounding Syria. Iran, meanwhile, pledged to finance the Palestinian Authority (PA) as soon as Hamas formed a government. Syria has also promised to assist the PA, and the issue will be debated at the upcoming Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan.

So, as the West focuses on how to deal with a Hamas-controlled government and Parliament, as well as a nuclear Iran, the fate of Syria seems to have moved down the international agenda. While it is too early to tell, there is considerable speculation that the Bush administration, as well as a number of European and Arab countries, are now beginning to understand that increased external pressure seems to be strengthening Islamist hard-liners throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The Syrian line to Western envoys is that Islamists will win free elections in the Middle East and that current U.S. policy only enhances extremist forces, while Israeli policies weaken PA President Mahmoud Abbas. This prediction proved correct in Iraq, and to a lesser degree in Egypt and the Palestinian territories. The Syrian leadership believes that the Hamas victory will cause Washington to reassess its "democracy agenda" vis-a-vis Syria, where deep Islamic currents flow under a fragile secular crust.

However, all these developments pose a number of long-term challenges for the Syrian regime. First, Hamas' victory has indeed confused the Bush administration, whether in its dealings with the PA or with regard to its broader democratic ambitions in the region. However, Washington has not shown any intention of revising its methods. Some in the administration do not object to Islamists coming to power through democratic processes. There is a belief that one way to "subdue" Islamist parties is to allow them to come to power, which may lead to the failure of their programs and will force them to moderate their hard-line policies in the long run.
Many questions remain about Hamas' future as a ruling party. It will face difficult choices that are likely to lead to stalemate. To be in power while simultaneously sticking to the political platform it developed as a militant movement will mean disagreement with Abbas, international isolation and, very likely, a reduction in financial resources. This will affect Hamas' capacity to finance civil institutions, schools and the families of dead militants. The movement, by accepting the PA platform and dealing with Palestinian affairs in a pragmatic way, would show a willingness to become a political party. This would alter its relationship with Syria and Iran

The experience of the Iraqi parties harbored by Damascus before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is still fresh in Syrian minds. As soon as they came to power in Baghdad, they turned a cold shoulder to Syria and forgot their onetime "strategic alliance" with it. Of course, there are differences between the Israeli occupation and that of the coalition forces in Iraq, but the question remains, Will Hamas do the same thing?

Syria is now surrounded by Islamic regimes or groups that have used elections to gain power. To the north, Turkey's Justice and Development Party rules democratically on the basis of a moderate Islamic platform endorsing liberal economic policy. To the east, the Shiite coalition in Iraq has come to power through elections supported by American and British forces fighting Sunni groups. Further east, Iran is ruled by Islamists who came to power during the 1979 revolution. To the west, in Lebanon, Hizbullah has proven its legitimacy in elections, and by fighting Israel and providing social programs for its followers. To the south, in the Palestinian territories, Hamas has a parliamentary majority. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood scored well in parliamentary elections last year - an experience Jordan may replicate in elections tentatively scheduled for next year.

Syria, which is ruled by secular socialist and nationalist party, therefore looks increasingly isolated in an "Islamized" environment. This has significant implications for Syria's political future, especially in light of the country's formidable economic problems. The Hamas victory will inspire Syrians to become more involved in Islamic political movements. The recent demonstrations against the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad showed what an Islamic genie might look like if it were to get out of its

bottle. And lest we forget, Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Syrian branch is banned. Hamas' victory could tempt Palestinians in Syria (with a refugee population of some 450,000) to join Islamist groups, violating the gentlemen's agreement with the Syrian regime that Palestinian Islamists not induct new members on Syrian territory.

Finally, one of the reasons behind Hamas' victory was strong anti-establishment sentiment, due to rampant corruption in the PA. The free elections allowed people to say no to the ruling party and yes to change.

While Fatah has been in power for around a decade, Syria's Baath has been in power for 43 years. Next year, Syria is scheduled to hold municipal and parliamentary elections. How will voters respond to slogans calling for combating corruption and cutting the public bureaucracy? How will Islamic forces that have maintained civil and domestic social support networks fare? For the Syrian regime, Hamas' success may be a double-edged sword.

Ibrahim Hamidi is a journalist living in Damascus and an expert on Syrian affairs. He wrote this article for THE DAILY STAR .


At 3/21/2006 04:06:00 PM, Blogger James Fletcher Baxter said...

The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view
of self, others, relationships, institutions, life, and
future. Important? Only the Creator who made us
in His own image is qualified to define us accurately.
Choose wisely...there are results.

Many problems in human experience are the result of
false and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Each individual human being possesses a unique, highly
developed, and sensitive perception of diversity. Thus
aware, man is endowed with a natural capability for enact-
ing internal mental and external physical selectivity.
Quantitative and qualitative choice-making thus lends
itself as the superior basis of an active intelligence.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. His title describes
his definitive and typifying characteristic. Recall
that his other features are but vehicles of experi-
ence intent on the development of perceptive
awareness and the following acts of decision and
choice. Note that the products of man cannot define
him for they are the fruit of the discerning choice-
making process and include the cognition of self,
the utility of experience, the development of value-
measuring systems and language, and the accultur-
ation of civilization.

The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits,
customs, and traditions, are the creative harvest of
his perceptive and selective powers. Creativity, the
creative process, is a choice-making process. His
articles, constructs, and commodities, however
marvelous to behold, deserve neither awe nor idol-
atry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth's own
highest expression of the creative process.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. The sublime and
significant act of choosing is, itself, the Archimedean
fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
forces of cause and effect to an elected level of qual-
ity and diversity. Further, it orients him toward a
natural environmental opportunity, freedom, and
bestows earth's title, The Choicemaker, on his
singular and plural brow.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the

Let us proclaim it. Behold!
The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 KJV



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