Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saudi ponders Syria upheaval spark

Guest post by Middle East publisher F. Najia

With the West now pounding Libya, I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with news, analyses and reactions on the unrest spreading throughout the Arab world. But one leader comment caught my attention this morning. It is by Tariq Alhomayed, editor in chief of the Saudi newspaper of records Asharq al-Awsat, and focuses on the prospects of an upheaval in Syria.

Following is my full translation of Alhomayed’s opinion piece

Tariq Alhomayed
Demonstrations erupted after Friday prayers in several Syrian cities namely, Damascus, Homs, Banias and the southern Syrian city of Deraa on the border with Jordan. People were killed, wounded or arrested as a result. Will that spark (turmoil) in Syria?

Syria is definitely not immune to the demonstrations and uprisings sweeping our region. I said time and again: Syria and the other Arab states are by no means cut from the same cloth. Tunisia is not Egypt. Bahrain, where confessional motivations dominate, is unlike the rest. Yemen is also different… Sanaa is extremely complex, if not a time bomb, given the Yemeni president’s obduracy. That leaves Libya, where the landscape remains open to all manners of coercion.

Syria then is not immune to events in our region. Matter of fact, Damascus invariably chooses to escape forward, using all excuses and tricks to postpone the hour of confronting the truth – the home front truth relating to its people. The latter takes precedence over reality on the external front -- which is perhaps less daunting – namely, calm on the borders with Israel. The calm there is greater than the calm that prevailed on the Egyptian-Israeli border throughout the Mubarak years.

Syria’s problems are a replica of problems facing all countries that escape forward and imagine the wheels of time do not spin and tricks succeed forever. But modern history reminds us that slogans do not satiate the appetite of hungry mouths, that some facts need addressing, that there is a moment when issues fall due.

Pretence and the lecturing of people as (Syrian president aide) Buthaina Shaaban does in her articles that read like having been filed from Switzerland cannot hide the facts. The best way to handle facts is to face them.

True, Syria is unlike the other troubled countries, but the reasons for complaint and discontent there are more pronounced. Syria is the most glaring example of asymmetry in the minority/majority game that nowadays fascinates the international community, the mass media and the newswires. These have not thrown their weight behind the protests in Syria as they did in the case of Bahrain, for instance. The reasons could be censorship or the lack of a confessional denominator as in Bahrain’s case. That’s especially true of news photographers and biased information outlets.

Accordingly, if this is the spark (for rebellion) in Syria, then a very hard time awaits Syria, particularly after the UN Security Council resolution against Libya and the prevailing international mood to play the minority/majority game and the lack of international faith in the Syrian modus operandi. The latter is a byproduct of the tortuous course of erroneous Syrian policies, of Damascus’s historic hostility towards the Moslem Brotherhood, over and above the tense internal political and economic situation.

As I said, the dilemma of the Arab republics is great and what is yet to come is onerous. Experience shows the continued defiance by citizens of their repressive regimes, as happened in Tunis, coupled with a state of internal resentment, usually leads to an explosion.

Hence, it is important to closely monitor events in Syria and gauge the anxieties and agitations of Iran and Hezbollah and the lengths they would go in their extremism and loss of credibility. Would they condemn, for example, the use of force against Syrian civilians and back their right to demonstrate peacefully as they did in the case of Bahrain? I think the reader knows the answer.
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