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SYRIA - Can The Assad Regime Survive?

In his Greater Middle East (GME) project, Bush wants Syria to become a true democracy. The way the Assads control Syria makes it impossible for them to allow this to happen, simply because they know they will not survive.

Judging by the way families of Lebanese young men explained how their loved ones had been abducted and taken to Syrian jails and had been tortured, many of them either killed or still being tortured in secret places - in a long TV talk-show which appeared on April 20 on LBC - it became clear to the Arab public that the Baathist regime of Damascus was no different from Saddam's Baathists in Iraq.

Many Lebanese observers have since forecast that, when the Baathists of Damascus have lost power, mass graves will be found in various parts of Syria.

It was found that, long before the Beirut uprising led to Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, the Syrians and their local puppets had gone as far as digging a mass grave within the area of Lebanon's Defence Ministry at Yarze. This was disclosed by one of the interviewees during the LBC programme, aired to many millions in the Arab world and the rest of the globe.

Columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in the The New York Times of April 21: "Democratic politics in the West is about horizontal bargaining between parties and civil organizations". Politics in Arab places like Baathist Syria and Iraq, or in Palestine, have been based for decades on what Friedman called "Oriental despotism - top-down monologues by dictators buttressed by a politics of fear".

While the Syrians under the Assads would remain in a state of fear as long as the Baathists are in power, what post-Saddam Iraqis and post-Arafat Palestinians are trying to do is make a transition from one system to the other. But the fundamentalists, Baathists and Nasserites within their societies - who for decades have been nourished by their "Oriental despots" as a way of keeping the people backward, divided and focused on the wrong things - are still powerful and virulent.

Arab dictators will not go quietly. The more they are seen to be losing, the crazier they will get. Friedman said: "The birth of democracy in the Arab world and the sustaining of democracy in Israel are now on the table. I am an optimist...but brace yourself [for trouble] for the short run".

The Israeli Transition: Friedman wrote: "On the surface, the dramas playing out among Israeli Jews (over whether to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, and among Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian Arabs over how to share power)... are all variations on a theme: Can democracy really take root or thrive in the Middle East?

"Lord knows, I am rooting for the good guys here. For me, the war in Iraq was always about democracy and the necessity of helping it emerge in the Arab-Muslim world. I am thrilled that things have come this far. This is the most interesting drama in the world today, but it's not over, because the forces opposing it are deep and virulent - virulent enough to stall it in the Arab world and to make it dysfunctional in Israel.

"In Israel, the question is whether its democratic system can sustain the monumental decision to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. For the Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese, the question is whether these multiethnic communities can produce, through horizontal dialogues, a political arena where monumental decisions can be taken - decisions that are essential if these societies are to progress in the modern age. In short, can Arab society give birth to infant democracy in order to get healthy, and can Israel's adolescent democracy survive a monumental decision required for its society to stay healthy?

"... One of the criticisms leveled at Ariel Sharon over his decision to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza is that he has never fully spelled out the reasons for his epiphany. After all, Sharon not only helped build many of the settlements there, but he consistently proclaimed the need to hold on to them, for security reasons, forever...

"[But] when Sharon finally became prime minister, with full responsibility for the Jewish state, he had to face squarely the reality that his predecessors had faced: The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was eroding the moral fiber of the Israeli Army, and, if sustained, would result in an apartheid - a minority of Jews ruling over a majority of Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

"The Jewish settler movement in Israel has always been a minority. The Israeli majority went along with it - as long as there was no price. But now the price has become inescapable".

Friedman quoted Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi as saying: "There is something quite stunning when you think about it. Three Israeli prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Sharon - all of them army generals, two from Labor one from Likud - all came to the same conclusion: that the occupation was unsustainable from the point of view of Israel's national defense". As a result, Ezrahi added, they all shifted from focusing on "wars of necessity to focusing on a peace of necessity".

Friedman concluded by saying: "Sharon doesn't want to explain this about-face publicly, in part, I assume, because it suggests weakness - that Israel can't keep doing what it has been doing, and knows it. But this withdrawal is a threat to the Jewish religious nationalists. Their goal is not peace, but to conquer Israeli society with their messianic vision and biblical map. They killed Rabin for getting in their way and have threatened to do the same to Sharon. Some of these settlers will not go down quietly...".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Date:Apr 25, 2005
Words:944
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