Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Could the U.S. waste another historic opportunity in the Middle East!

Over the last few weeks, protesters have increasingly adopted an anti-Iranian and anti-Hizbollah line, yet Western leaders continue to legitimize the rule of the Assads, the long-time allies of Iran and Hezbollah, are western leaders blind to the opportunity at hand?

Tuesday 24 2011

Human rights group in Syria put the official death toll at 1,100. The list includes the names of 25 children and teenagers. Groups also noted that the number of those detained since the revolution started is in excess of 10,000.

The Turkish city of Antioch received 30 wounded protesters from Idlib Governorate who came seeking treatment at the local hospitals, in order to avoid getting arrested should they seek treatment in Syrian hospitals.

Ammar Abdulhamid, a long time Syrian dissident who has been living in exile in the US since 2005, suggests the administration is slowing down the process that would lead to calls for Mr Assad to leave - trying to buy time "while they try to finish things in Libya"… Mr Abdulhamid acknowledged that another reason why the US has refrained from calling on Mr Assad to go is its uncertainty about a post-Assad future. "They don't believe he's a reformer, but they can't see an alternative," he said. A large number of opposition groups are now reportedly planning to meet in Turkey... to elect a transitional council, connect with protesters inside the country, and present the international community with a clear alternative to Assad. If they succeed, it would move the debate about Syria into a new phase.


Two points U.S. and European policymakers need to understand: the reason why army general and members of the commercial elites in Damascus and Aleppo have so far stood by the regime is connected in great part to the fact that the entire community continues to treat Bashar Al-Assad as the legitimate ruler of Syria, even as they impose sanctions on him. To the necessarily paranoid minds of our generals and merchants, whose suspicion of American and European policymakers run pretty deep to begin with, this reluctance on part of the international community, nay, the insistence by world leaders on avoiding making direct appeals for Assad’s departure of ouster, indicates that the only thing these leaders are interested in is pulling Syria out of its alliance with Iran while preserving Assad rule to keep the Golan front quiet and appease the Israelis. As such, there is simply no serious incentive for these people to break ranks. They clearly believe that, without international support, the protesters cannot accomplish the job of regime change on their own, even if things turned violent.


Meanwhile, by burning the Iranian, Chinese and Russian flags, chanting against Hezbollah, praising Turkey (a NATO ally) and appealing for UN, U.S. and European support, the protesters are in a sense rejecting the foreign policies of the Assads and sending a clear message to the international community as to the nature or the geopolitical realignment that will take place once the Assads are gone. The troubling alliance will surely come to an end, and Iran’s regional influence will be severely weakened.


This being the case, the reluctance of world leaders to endorse the Syrian Revolution, call for Asasd’s ouster and embarking on a serious effort meant to facilitate transition in the country is mind-boggling and foolish. Here is an opportunity to transform Syria, the main Arab center of anti-Western sentiments for over 5 decades, into a potential ally of the U.S. and NATO, and what are Western leaders doing? They’re hedging their bet on their avowed enemy. Go figure! Is it a case of willful blindness we are dealing with here, or willful stupidity?


Whatever the case may be, one thing clear, like all historic opportunities in the Middle East, this one comes with an expiration date. But rather than worry about figuring how long we have before the expiration date is upon us, it’s better to focus on not wasting the opportunity. It’s time world leaders called on Assad to go. 

Deraa City / May 24: as punishment for “disloyalty,” army troops burn motorbikes belonging to local residents, and celebrate by discharging their guns into the air.
Deraa / Al-Mseifrah / May 24: funeral for a martyred protester. Chants: “the Sun of Freedom rose from Deraa City”
Damascus / Madhat Pasha: a small group of women demonstrate in the traditional bazaar of Midhat Pasha in the middle of Old Damascus, signing patriotic songs, and carrying banners calling for ending violent repression and lifting the siege imposed on a number of communities throughout Syria (I cannot make out the writing on the signs, so I am relying on eyewitnesses account here). The woman seen at the end of the video harassed by a security officer was threatened but not arrested.
Damascus / Midan / May 24: a small anti-regime vigil, with participants chanting “Leave, leave”
Qamishly / May 24: anti-regime vigil
Homs / May 24: army tanks lay a new siege against the towns of Talbisseh and Rastan.
Aleppo / Nile Street / May 24: small demonstration in support of Deraa and besieged communities in one of Aleppo’s main streets. Protesters also chanted against the Grand Mufti of Syria, a resident of Aleppo, and who spoke against the protests and adopted the official line of infiltrators and external conspiracies and urged Aleppans not to join.
Homs / Rastan / May 24: local residents hold an anti-regime vigil as tanks lay siege to their town.
Idlib / Kafrouma & Kafar Nabol / May 24: “Leave, leave… the people want to topple the regime”
Idlib / Jabal Al-Zawiyah / May 24: a funeral for a local martyr. Chants: “Assad is the enemy of God” “the people want to topple the regime”
Deraa / Ma’arbah / May 23: protesters carry banners calling for toppling the regime and singing “the Sun of freedom rose from Deraa City”
Damascus / Harasta / May 23: anti-regime vigil with protesters chanting in support of besieged communities. “We are only demanding freedom… don’t accuse of being terrorists.”