ARAB SPRING? WHAT ARAB SPRING?

Madeleine Albright is warmly greeted by then Israeli Prime Minister Barak

There never was an “Arab Spring” and never will be. There is a western politician holding a major office in his own country that involves foreign affairs who, like La Fontaine’s frog, has been enjoying inflating his own status by making ‘weighty’ pronouncements of policy on countries whose problems have remained insoluble for generations.

The recent leader of the great nation Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, who a few weeks earlier had been a friend of the West until a new outburst of unrest was given the fanciful name ‘Arab Spring’ bringing massive media attention, was deserted by the self- proclaimed world leader, the USA, whose billions of American dollars had been supporting him to rule Egypt by military dictatorship, and has been dragged past uneducated howling mobs shouting “kill, kill” and labelled an international criminal. It makes many of us think we are back in the times of Pope Urban II who, in March 1095, called upon Europe to march into a plundering war against the Islamic nations.  

Seemingly, in whipping up international support for any armed opposition to current Middle East rulers, we are making the same blunders as in the earlier Crusades.   Certainly within one year we are seeing anarchy in Libya, Egypt and Syria and once settled people now without homes, places of worship, farms and even with murderous family in-fighting where formerly all religions co-existed peacefully. Now the sinking sun brings fear from the night and the intrusion of young gangsters now in possession of powerful fire- arms.

Media reports show daily there is now the most appalling and grisly mess inconceivable before the comfortable, safely distant western politicians identified an imaginary Arab Spring and decided to interfere with a concocted UN support for armed intervention. Now, seeing the tragic results, the same unapologetic architects of the mess are telling us to have patience because it will all come right in the end, but meanwhile their innocent citizens are faced with a rising cost of living as sanctions and oil supply punish all sides.

New outbreaks of unrest by young people in neighbouring countries expecting the same Western intervention are causing thousands of deaths but the “circumstances are not the same, we cannot take sides, or further annoy the other world powers, Russia and China.”  In the dark and deepest thoughts of those who feel the west is responsible for much of the tragedy, lies the uncomfortable feeling that somewhere behind it all is the matter of who gets the oil! The itch to intervene to bring help remains strong. But ever since the Crusades fired by Pope Urban II the indulgence of that itch has usually made things worse.

We are now seeing the Syrian people attending the voting booths inspired by the democratic demands in the Arab Spring to believe in the ballot box’s magic power—like some kind of philosopher’s stone — to turn governance into gold.  Yet we are now told there never was an entity that can usefully be called “the Syrian people” and we are told the blame must be at the door of the then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who arrived in the Syrian capital Damascus in 1999, for what was in many ways the most important part of her then current mission to the Middle East, where she held talks with President Hafez al-Assad and assured us all he was the main focus of Washington’s push for peace in the region.

Washington needed President Hafez al-Assad and we well remember the friendly kiss between the pair photographed for world consumption, just as the one she had received earlier from Israeli Prime Minister Barak (photo).  Now we are told from Washington that there are problems which had escaped the Pentagon planners and no doubt the powerful industrial barons and that it is difficult to take sides for there is no unified insurgency; there is opposition, but not an Opposition: no putative government of the kind we could almost persuade ourselves existed in Libya. There are armed factions, places where resistance is stronger, temporary bases, but no likely “haven”.

Among the rebels are some bad people with support from bad external forces. And the Syrian Government’s underlying position remains formidable. More problematic still is this: it is not at all clear that Assad’s Government rules by fear alone. Certainly it rules by fear and always did, even when we called it friend; but so do those who rule Saudi Arabia, Morocco and, to a degree, Russia. The apparatus of an authoritarian State is not conclusive proof that a substantial number of its citizens do not want an authoritarian state; or, even if they don’t, do not prefer to hope and work for more gradual change.

Foreign media reporting keeps our eyes upon the city of Homs, Syria’s third largest city which has emerged as the “capital” of the uprising and has consequently had to bear the brunt of the crackdown on dissident sectarian tensions between Sunni Muslims and minority Alawite. Let us not forget that for many centuries, the Alawite were the weakest, poorest, most rural, most despised, and most backward people of Syria.

In recent years, however, they have transformed themselves into the ruling elite of Damascus. Today the Alawite  sect to which the family of President Bashar al-Assad belong,  dominate the government, hold key military positions, enjoy a disproportionate share of the educational resources, and are becoming wealthy. So we have to ask ourselves:  ‘how did this dramatic change occur? When did the ‘Alawi manage to escape their traditional confines, and what was the mechanism of their rise?’  One thing is certain though: it was not an “Arab Spring”, something the British Foreign Secretary could ponder.

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