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July 4, 2013

Syria: A Revolution Denied

Posted: 04 Jul 2013 05:56 AM PDT
Being democratically elected is not a mandate for riding roughshod over the rule of law. After all everybody knows that the Nazis were democratically elected and yet they unleashed the template for the state sanctioned horror that we are seeing in Syria today. So what are we to make of events in Egypt? My view is that it is both a military coup and a popular uprising against Morsi.

To say it is one or the other, or to pretend as if the Muslim Brotherhood dominated government in Egypt, democratically elected or not, is a victim, is to take a simplistic view of a complex region. There is no denying that in spite of whatever support he could claim, Morsi was deeply unpopular and the numbers and crowds on the street calling for him to go were remarkable. This movement was in the same spirit as the uprising which toppled the Mubarak regime, and as with Mubarak, it was the army which stepped in to remove the unpopular ruler. But the Egyptian generals are the king makers and they cannot themselves rule.

That Morsi or even ten more presidents after him would be toppled is hardly surprising after a period of revolution. There are going to be many more administrations that come and go in this way before the country settles into some form of normalcy, but this should not be taken as a bad thing. In fact it holds excellent lessons for Syrians who are working hard to topple Assad. The removal of a decades long regime is not alone the goal of the Arab spring, but the beginning of opportunity. To put it simply the removal of tyrants will not give people the jackpot but rather it will give them the opportunity to buy the lottery ticket – something they have long been denied.

There are plenty of Assad supporters, the same ones who cheered the protests in Turkey for all the wrong reasons, who think that this vindicates Assad and condemns the revolution in Syria. They are wrong. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups enjoy far less support in Syria than they do in Egypt, and if anything the toppling of Mursi shows us that when Assad goes then nobody will have the monopoly on rule anymore. When nobody has absolute power then compromises are necessary, and with Assad no longer able to bomb the country we will see Syrians returning from refugee camps, and civil society and coordination committees operating and communicating freely again. We will also see the kinds of protest scenes that Syrians have long looked to their Egyptian cousins at with envy.

Going back to Egypt, the Egyptian military is ruthless, secular and not to be trusted. It is simply playing a game of swapping heads around to find one that is more acceptable for the masses. But it is no contradiction to support the toppling of Morsi whilst also condemning the military coup that removed him. The battle in Egypt is one for the state, whilst in Syria we do not have a state. As such, the Egyptian army must maintain a some form of adherence to the Egyptian rule of law that everybody is trying to dominate. By contrast, we Syrians have neither a state nor a military institution but rather a private army and a regime to face. As such the unprecedented brutality and national trauma that we’re going through as we fight to remove our own dictator is far worse than anything the Egyptians have gone through. It doesn’t mean their fight is any easier, but it does mean that the forces they are fighting to wrest power from do have a grudging respect for the rule of law. This is probably the only thing stopping the Egyptian military from bombing parts of Cairo and imposing martial law.

This is explained partly because Egypt is an old state something that Egyptians have Muhammad Ali to thank for. Syria, on the other hand, remained under the Ottoman yoke for far longer and so we just didn’t get the experience of state building that the children of the Nile did.
Ironically for us the period of the French mandate did lay the groundwork for some form of a Syrian state, and it was Syrian nationalists who chafed against rule from Paris who laid the groundwork for the country’s independence and statehood through their struggle. The Syrian “Independence” flag of green white and black is today the symbol of that almost forgotten Syrian state and the struggle of our forefathers.

The start of the revolution against Assad might have been an attempt at regaining that national spirit, but this has now been sabotaged by Assad’s overwhelming brutalization of Syrians, causing some deep sectarian rifts to re-emerge. This regime survives by creating crises and then solving them. Denying it the ability to sustain the crisis it has created in Syria will again allow some type of Syrian state to emerge. To do this then his power must be destroyed. Alternatively Assad and his allies must be taught that any transgressions will have painful repercussions directly to him, his regime, and his inner circle unless he agrees to negotiate and abide by the rule of law.

That might all be idealistic to hope for but it is realistic to demand. Until that happens Syrians will continue to look on in envy at the incredible scenes of public protest in Egypt, scenes that they were just starting to get used to before their revolution was denied them.

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A Turkish hotel that hosts all Syria’s pains and memories

Amal Hanano

Jul 4, 2013

The town of Reyhanli is the Turkish capital for revolutionary activities in northern Syria, and the Hotel Ali Ce is the heart of those operations. Here the abstract concept of “regional spillover,” so popular in analytical articles about Syria, becomes real and personal. The hotel was once a safe haven, as was the town. But now Syria’s violence touches everyone you meet, from the concierge to the guests.

Unlike the lavish hotels that the Syrian political opposition has become accustomed to, the pink and yellow Ali Ce building on the main Reyhanli road is not known for luxury. It is almost impossible to make a reliable reservation, they don’t take credit cards, their showers are extremely moody and you have to ask for your room to be cleaned.

But from morning till well past midnight, dozens of characters gather around the white plastic tables: FSA fighters and generals, aid workers, activists, journalists, Syrian expatriates and refugees and weapons dealers. Once a sleepy hotel in a sleepy town, the Ali Ce has witnessed it all: tortured prisoners, strategic political meetings, secret weapons deals and scandalous stories: “What happens in the Ali Ce, stays in the Ali Ce”.

The out-of-touch political opposition, a world away in Istanbul, is forgotten and ignored here. The connection to Syria and the Syrian people is tangible in border towns like Reyhanli and Killis. Reyhanli’s population has doubled to 60,000 since the revolution began. The town suffered deadly twin car bombings in May but concrete apartment buildings are sprouting up everywhere and the local economy is booming. The fact that the Syrian tragedy is behind this growth is never forgotten.

On my first night, bleary, jet-lagged and relieved that I had a room, I took some dollars from my wallet to tip Mohammed, who had lugged my bags. I was surprised when he refused to take the money, saying with pride “I don’t want your money. I am Syrian”. I learnt later that he had been tortured in one of Bashar Al Assad’s prisons for a year and a half.

Later I opened the window – there was a distant view of olive-trees on Syrian hills, and listened to the morning athan. Everything about this place reminded me of Syria. Sadly, Reyhanli had not been spared my country’s misery. Women and children begged for money on the street, in Arabic.

At Galaxy, a fast-food restaurant, Syrian-style chicken with white garlic sauce was our group’s favourite meal. When I complained that food was much better in Antakya, my friend joked: “Wait 10 years, you’ll eat here like you used to in Aleppo.” We did not laugh.

The Turkish people we interacted with were sources of protection and loyalty. Ahmet, our tough driver, had delivered food to his Syrian friends who could not leave the house for days after the car bombings. He claimed he changed his former “sinful” ways after working for the refugees. He said that he used to commit “2,000 sins a day but now only 1,000”. Ahmet suffered a massive heart attack and had bypass surgery during my trip. When we visited him on our last night in his modest home, he told me: “We are one people. One people.”

At Nazli’s, a hairdresser across the street, I learnt that the Turkish mother’s brother-in-law had been killed in the bombings. I was quiet as she moved the brush through my hair and said over and over: “Why the bombs? Why the bombs?”

Moustafa, a Turkish hotel manager, surprised me one night when I walked in after being out for 12 hours: “Where were you? No one stays in the camp that late. I was worried.” I explained we had dinner before coming back to the hotel. He made me promise to let him know every time we came back from Syria.

One Turkish man in particular affected the lives of everyone who crossed into Syria via the Atmeh border. Hussein, a skinny man with a pudding-bowl haircut that made him look like an ageing Beatle, went from holding a boring government job at this remote outpost to becoming one of the most important men in Reyhanli. He is responsible for signing every person in and out of the Atmeh border. Everyone tries to be on his good side to ease entry and exit, which is not easy because of his flaring temper. For instance, if your name were Bashar, he would change it to Bashir, yelling: “I haven’t written the name Bashar in two years and refuse to start doing that now.”

The last day I crossed into Syria, he learnt my personal information by his heart. He asked jokingly without looking up: “So when are you coming back? I hope you’re not staying for a long time.” Surrounded by dozens of people waiting for hours in the heat to get into Syria – some without papers, others separated from their families, each face etched with the same pain of uncertainty – I burst into tears. He consoled me: “I pray for this nightmare to be over every day. I pray for all of these people to go back to their homes. I pray that you will never have to cross into your country from here again.”

Leaving the hotel after 12 nights, the broken shower head, the hard beds and the quilts and carpets on the plastic partition, were all but forgotten as I looked back at the unlikely group that had gathered on the side street to say goodbye, smiling Syrians and Turks wishing us safe travels and safe returns.

I realised we were part of another kind of regional spillover, one that no one writes about, perhaps because they would be accused of “romanticising” the revolution. Or perhaps in the feverish quest to hunt down and write about the revolution’s horrors instead of its hopes, they just had not experienced it. This spillover was real and personal too – a bond between people and that bleeding land that was within hiking distance. A bond of compassion, determination and love.

By every conventional review standard, Ali Ce fails miserably. But it does what only the best hotels can do: it makes you feel at home. When a hotel or a town can make you feel at home, while you have become estranged by force from your real home, that’s just pure magic. And just like in The Eagles’ song, you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

Amal Hanano is a pseudonym for a Syrian-American writer

On Twitter: @AmalHanano

No time for tears – Deutsche Welle

This documentary shows how disappointment about the Western policy towards Syria leads to the radicalization of Anwar, a 28-year-old Syrian teacher. For more than a year I have followed the young man to make this movie. He joined an islamist rebel group mainly because of its superior organization and effectiveness compared to the Free Syrian Army.

Thoughts on the Present Dilemma in Egypt by Azmi Bishara

Azmi Bishara ( Official English Page) · [An edited translation from the Azmi Bishara Arabic facebook page]

1) The Muslim Brotherhood failed to understand the nature of the transitional phase. They failed to grasp that it was not a matter of the strongest party having the right to rule the country, but that all involved had a duty to shoulder the responsibility of governing Egypt. This shared duty of governing meant that they should have involved every single faction in the administration of the country. They should not have fallen into the trap of monopolising power, and thereby  carrying the blame for its failures and difficulties. Instead of denying participation to political factions which supported them during the second round of presidential elections, the Brotherhood should have insisted on those groups taking part in the transitional phase from the very beginning. The dismissal of [generals] Tantawi and Annan [from SCAF] provided the Brotherhood with a moment of power they needed to bring others on board. Instead, the Brotherhood announced the Constitutional Declaration [in November, 2012], and with it, much of the credibility won by Morsi was dithered away. The end result was that other groups began to avoid participation in the transitional phase. Foiling the Brotherhood’s attempts at governance became their new aim. The situation left them with no shortage of justifications to do so.

2) The Brotherhood’s opponents failed to realise that it was institutions dominated by the former regime—the media, the judiciary and other state bodies—which were the main obstacles to the President’s work.

3) The Brotherhood meanwhile did not grasp that they needed to ally themselves with other revolutionary forces in order to face the vestiges of the former regime which remained entrenched within the state. These other groups, excluded from shouldering any responsibility, came to support the remnants of the Mubarak regime, like the General Prosecutor (Attorney General), on the grounds that the actions taken against them were not legally sound. Yet only “revolutionary” and “extra-legal” actions, or a change of the laws, would have made it possible to remove these people. The Brotherhood, bound to take such revolutionary measures, stuck to the book on formalities when others wanted to join in.  Yet they also violated formalities when these stood in the way of their aims.

4) Remnants of the Mubarak regime seized their chance and ratcheted up their agitation against the elected President in an atmosphere of recrimination against the Brotherhood by other revolutionary factions.

5) The estrangement of an elected president in this way, through military intervention, holds out the risk of a spiral of events which may complicate any democratic transition. A further set of dangers is born of the possible conclusions which Islamists might deduce about electoral politics, given that they were excluded from what had been to them an important experience. Will they follow the lead of Turkey’s AKP, becoming ever more democratic with each act of military repression? Or will they instead react against any type of democratic participation? These questions cut to the heart of the democratic experiment and the fate of that experiment, as well attitudes of wide swathes of the public towards it. They should be asked by all responsible people, and are not to be taken lightly.

6) A further problematic is when wide swathes of the revolutionary movements defend a judiciary which constantly issues ruling in favour of the former regime, instead of demanding that this judiciary be reformed.

7) The Brotherhood’s stumbling block has been its partisanship, which is in fact more extreme than their religiosity. This has prevented them from allowing the interests of the nation and society to supersede those of the Party. The fact that they could not see that remnants of the former regime wanted to capitalise on this for counter-revolutionary ends, is a problem.

8) Another problematic has been the silence which has faced the former regime’s ludicrous media rhetoric, steeped in falsehoods and myths. The unjustified agitation against Palestinians is reminiscent of how the Mubarak regime behaved during the 2008/2009 war on Gaza.

9) Democratic revolutionaries must now chart a course through all of these problems and challenges, and cannot remain stagnant when the time comes to distinguish between what can be termed “the revolution within the revolution” on the path to democracy, and a counter-revolution.

10)  The deposition of an elected president is now a moot point: with a national unity government, the date for presidential and parliamentary elections can be brought forward. The act of agreeing on early elections is itself an inherently democratic procedure. The important point at this stage is how the will of a large and important section of the population has forcefully replaced another, and broken it. The desire for a forceful breaking of the will of a section of population will lead to a deep social schism, one which will pose another challenge to the democratic transition. The beneficiaries will be the usual enemies of democracy.

11) The path to democracy is long, and cannot be decided in the space of two short days. There is no need to rush to the barricades.  The important thing is that the generation of the January 25 Revolution remain on course. That generation hold the key to Egypt’s democratic, Arab future, and not the old guard who are sponging off of the youth’s efforts and bickering over the spoils.

Jannah Jannah Homs Tribute

Homs the capital of syrian revolution, a city full of history, pain and glory, salute Homs the epic city. for more pictures visit https://www.facebook.com/LensYoungHom…

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