All the contradictions of the region and the conflicts of the world have been manifested in the Syrian crisis. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the daily bloodshed and grief suffered by the Syrian people.
We have seen how Hassan Nasrallah and the supporters of the axis of resistance switched from heralding and hailing the collapse of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes to accusing the Syrian people - who are only emulating what the Egyptian and Tunisian people have done - of treason and betrayal!
To be fair, some reactions have been completely contrary to the aforementioned example. In terms of calculating political interests, other parties were deeply disturbed by the Mubarak regime falling to political trends that are hostile to the Gulf's general policies in the region. The most prominent of these political trends is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood organization. Following the enthusiastic welcome given by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to what happened in Egypt; these parties became even more disturbed and apprehensive. These responses are the result of purely political calculations.
Last week Dubai police chief Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan issued a series of statements against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt and Tunisia. This confrontation occurred following Khalfan's verbal confrontation with Muslim Brotherhood “spiritual guide” Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, who attacked, denounced and condemned the United Arab Emirates [UAE] government over an old "vendetta". It is worth noting that the UAE had previously banned Sheikh al-Qaradawi from entering the country, however it seems that the Sheikh could not accept the idea of a country being bold enough to stand up to him.
Khalfan paid Sheikh al-Qaradawi back twofold in response to the latter's fiery statements against the UAE. Earlier, al-Qaradawi exploited an incident concerning some Syrian residents of the UAE who had allegedly been prevented from staging any protests, even if in support of the Syrian revolution. This prevention came in line with the UAE’s policy of precluding such behaviour. It was claimed that some Syrian residents had been deported due to their failure to obtain legal residency documents. Then propaganda came out claiming that the UAE was intending to extradite them back to Syria, back into the hands of the killer al-Assad regime. Subsequently, Sheikh al-Qaradawi flew off the handle, but Lieutenant General Khalfan countered with force and threatened Sheikh al-Qaradawi with international arrest. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt then quickly came to the defence of al-Qaradawi, launching a vigorous campaign against the UAE via its spokesman Mahmoud Ghuzlan who threatened the UAE with the fury of the entire Muslim world, merely for angering the Muslim Brotherhood! This brings to mind the ancient Arab proverb which goes:
They do not ask their brother for evidence of what he said whenever he seeks their aid!
Lieutenant General Khalfan carried on with his attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood and even told the Algerian “Shorouk” newspaper that the Muslim Brotherhood should be prevented from rising to power in Syria. Khalfan issued this statement even though the UAE’s official position is similar to that of the rest of the Gulf States which staunchly backs the Syrian revolution and opposes the al-Assad regime. Here we reach the following conclusion: How could a mere dispute with a certain figure produce this level of controversy?
The Muslim Brotherhood felt euphoric [after their recent election successes], and so they mounted a campaign against the UAE. I must also say that the UAE is right to be afraid of the Brotherhood’s projects, but what about the situation in Syria?
Personally, I was and remain opposed to the political and intellectual views of the Muslim Brotherhood. I believe these views rank as one of the greatest intellectual, social and political catastrophes to have occurred in our region in the past century. Indeed, I think we can compare the damage done to the concept of liberty and freedom from this catastrophic ideology to the damage caused by nuclear explosions!
I also believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most dominant currents within the Syrian opposition. But this is one thing and assessing whose political interests are served by the survival or ouster of the al-Assad regime is something else.
I would presume that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood branch is the least harmful and toxic of all Brotherhood branches, whether with regards to the Gulf States in particular or the Arab world in general. I am basing this presumption on a number of reasons, including:
- The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s old and stable relationship with Turkey's Islamists and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the hope that this will allow them to emulate the most successful Islamist experience in the region. To be more precise, the hope that they emulate AKP’s experience with regards to understanding the relationship between religion and politics, and put in place the idea of development and reconciliation with secularism. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan advocated this path in Egypt following the Muslim Brotherhood’s overwhelming parliamentary election victory, but the Brotherhood reacted angrily to this.
- Their hostile relations with Iran due to the al-Assad regime's alliance with Tehran's Mullahs, or to be more accurate, its subordination to Iran’s Supreme Leader and Wali al-Faqih. This runs in contrast to the close ties that bind Egypt's, Tunisia's and Gaza's Muslim Brotherhood branches to the Khomeinist regime.
- The prolonged exile of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leaderships in Western countries, especially Europe and America, which has taught them to reconcile with the concept of democracy.
- Finally, let us recall that the General Guide of Syria's Brotherhood, Mr. Riad Al-Shaqfa, resides in the city of Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
All the considerations mentioned above, along with the nature of the fabric of Syrian society, which is known for its sectarian and cultural diversity, means that it is hard to imagine the Libyan, Egyptian or even Tunisian scenario occurring in post-Assad Syria. It also allows us to say that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria during the period of the Arab Spring - or shall we say Arab chaos, will be the least harmful.
If we take all this into account, in addition to the gravity of the alliances forged between the al-Assad regime, Tehran and anti-Saudi groups, as well as certain organizations and parties within the Gulf (like Hezbollah, the Sadrist bloc, Nouri al-Maliki and his Dawa Party and even the Gazan and Egyptian branches of the Muslim Brotherhood during a previous era), we would reach the conclusion that it is imperative to take a definitive decision to target the venomous and hostile al-Assad regime.
At least the damage inflicted by the al-Assad regime is well known, while the harm caused by a potential Muslim Brotherhood replacement is only hypothetical. If a person is given the option of choosing between definite harm and hypothetical harm, they must surely choose the latter.
The delicacy and complexity of appraising the political situation in Syria is due, in no small part, to this dilemma.
Despite the atrocities committed by the al-Assad regime, the issue is not merely about making a moral judgment; political interests are also in the balance. It is also not as the short-sighted believe, namely that there is a contradiction in positions towards each Arab Spring country, on a case by case basis.
Ever since the start of the [political] earthquakes across our region, there have been changes and alterations in adopting specific stances on this or that revolution. Each party – and this is only natural – wants to steer the situation to their own advantage and view it within their own particular context.
Some countries in the region tried to steer the events and interpret them according to their own private agendas. In February 2011, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani described the popular uprisings that had broken out in the region as evidence of the return of the "Islamic Awakening" in the Middle East. He even went so far as to scold Al-Azhar clerics for not taking part in the Egyptian revolution. The hidden message here was that the Iranian city of Qom was the throbbing heart of the "Islamic Awakening" Larijani was speaking about, as reported by "CNN".
The paradox is that the rest of the Salafi Islamists, including activists and academics, shared Larijani's opinion that what was happening was evidence of the resurrection of the Islamic awakening. They even issued statements to that effect. However, there can be no doubt that they differed sharply with Larijani with regards to determining the model of this awakening.
Apart from Islamists, we have pan-Arab nationalists who believe that what happened in Egypt and Tunisia among other countries was evidence of the return of the unifying pan-Arab Nasserite spirit. In the pan-Arab suffused al-Khaleej newspaper, I read – as I mentioned in February – an article by Saad Mahyou in which he promoted his pan-Arab sentiments using Cairo’s Tahrir Square as evidence. In that article, the writer recalled a conversation which took place a few years ago in a Beirut-based coffee shop, between himself and late owner and publisher of “al-Kahleej” newspaper Taryam Omran, who also happened to be a pan-Arab intellectual. In a doleful voice Omran reportedly told Mahyou that “our time, that is the time of the sons of pan-Arabism, has come to an end.” Mahyou reportedly answered, “Our time has returned with Tahrir Square!”
This is to say nothing of the aims of the US and Europe who see, in recent developments across the Arab World, the beginning of a liberal democratic era. Regardless of this, some voices in the US Congress were naïve enough to warn against the danger of the "Muslim Brotherhood" in Egypt.
Broad headlines always succeed in rallying throngs of excited people under any slogan or banner. But the devil lies in the details, and this leads to a clash of wills. For this reason, Arab media outlets adopted different tones of addressing and covering what was happening in our region, from one place to another. Al-Jazeera satellite TV station approached the "Bahrain" incidents in a manner completely different to the one it adopted in dealing with the Egyptian revolution. The same goes for "Al-Arabiya" satellite TV station which covered the "Libya" incidents in a completely different manner to its coverage of the Egyptian events.
The language of [political] interests is as powerful as the language of emotion. This is how human beings work. They always find themselves caught between idealism and practicality. This is how it will always be.
In any case, what is happening now in Syria necessitates us to search for any possible exit, because it truly has become a do or die situation.
The writer is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on March 25, 2012