If one were to summarize the crises currently threatening to tear apart the Arab world, the word “coexistence” would quickly come to mind. We Arabs have forgotten the true meaning of the word “coexistence” and its implications in the sense of possible partnership over homeland, values and destiny.
Our ruling elites - always claiming to act in the name of the people and infrequently under the banner of freedom fighting, progress and the resistance - understand “coexistence” according to their own mood swings and exclusive definitions. These elites consider whatever they say to be right, while anyone who opposes them is either a takfirist (a Muslim who accuses another of apostasy) or a foreign agent. As a result, we are paying a heavy price for this situation, which will either result in the fragmentation of our Arab countries or create further chaos and invite the hegemony of our regional neighbors.
Regarding the Syrian crisis, several international sides are implicitly seeking to put down the Syrian revolution by way of rehabilitating President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, on the pretext that it is the only power capable of repelling the extremist jihadist and takfirist groups.
The Syrian regime moved early on to accuse its opponents of being takfirists - and this was a ploy that spread like wildfire from Lebanon to Iran. However, these same opponents rose against it in a spontaneous peaceful uprising that started in Dera’a around three years ago. At that time, neither the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) nor the al-Nusra Front, nor any other extremist Islamist groups, existed in Syrian territory. Nevertheless, the Syrian regime took the decision to “teach its people a lesson”- and this was translated into all-out war.
Iran then chose to defend the ruling junta it had long nurtured and sponsored regardless of humanitarian, ethical and democratic concerns. Russia and China both decided that Syria was a playground they should exploit to blackmail the United States, a retiring rudderless superpower. Last but not least, and for obvious reasons, Israel practically confirmed that it would prefer Assad - whose true nature it knows well - to remain in power over having to gamble on an unknown alternative that may be emboldened by a public mandate.
Iran then chose to defend the ruling junta it had long nurtured and sponsored regardless of humanitarian, ethical and democratic concerns. Russia and China both decided that Syria was a playground they should exploit to blackmail the United States, a retiring rudderless superpowerEyad Abu Shakra
Thus, with U.S. collusion, the priorities have changed and political discourse has been transformed after Russia, China and Iran intransigently defended Assad. While Washington refrained from providing any effective support to resolve the crisis, and in the process saved millions of Syrians from the regime’s killing machine, Moscow and Tehran beefed up the Syrian regime’s military capabilities in terms of weapons and fighters. The plot thickened when the Syrian regime facilitated the entry of takfirist and jihadist groups—some of which have been infiltrated by state intelligence—into Syria in order to justify its scorched-earth policy.
In fact, the regime released convicted terrorists from its own prisons, who were later joined by former detainees from Iraqi prisons who joined under dubious circumstances, to spread chaos across the country. Moreover, the Syrian regime effectively used its political fifth column to good effect. The latter, represented by the regimes’ agents and collaborators, carried out the set task of confusing, dividing and discrediting the opposition they had infiltrated.
Today, Washington and the Western capitals are threatening to decrease their support to the opposition groups—which is at an all-time low both in terms of the situation on the ground in Syria and the humanitarian crisis—unless they agree to participate in the forthcoming Geneva II peace conference. This threat is being made despite the lack of any guarantees as to ending Assad’s rule and starting the transitional period.
In fact, with the date of Geneva II fast approaching, the rebels’ chances of securing the upper hand on the ground is diminishing in light of the pincer movement it is facing from the Syrian government military on one hand and ISIS and other like-minded extremist groups on the other. This is not to mention the opposition losing its bearings amid the bogus international promises, the bloody battle it is fighting against the regime and the Iran-led Shi’ite militias, and the backstabbing practiced by ISIS and others of that ilk.
The aim, it seems, is to deplete the revolution and bring it to its knees and rehabilitate Assad. This is something that we should expect to see happen at Geneva, particularly if the US maintains its position.
In the meantime, in Lebanon, which has become part of the Syrian scene, there is talk that the prime minister-designate is moving closer and closer to forming a new cabinet, and this can clearly be seen in the hectic meetings being held by those mediating these negotiations. The Lebanese scene has taken on an added dimension, with international voices expressing the need to end the political vacuum in the country.
The latest such call came during the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in Paris, not to mention recent remarks made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Beirut. These two occurrences came as the countdown to the start of the proceedings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon began.
What is strange, however, is that the March 8 Alliance, which is linked to the Damascus–Tehran axis, is still insisting on forming a “national inclusive cabinet” despite the fact that the two cabinets it dominated since 2004 were anything but “inclusive.”
On Tuesday, Hezbollah MP Muhammad Fneish emphasized the prospect of political partnership, saying: “Lebanon must not be ruled by any single faction, whether the majority or the minority.” The same MP said: “Until further notice, Lebanon’s political system, social make-up, and the political equations around it do not allow one faction to own the political decision-making in the country.”
What rings most true in this statement is the expression “until further notice,” which means “based on the current balance of power.” When the circumstances are favorable, Hezbollah will impose its will, disrupt consensus and defy political partnerships. The Shi’ite militia also seemingly forgets at will the accusations of treason and takfirism it directs against its opponents as it bullies them into allying with it as per its own conditions, in order to provide the much-needed political cover for its arms - the same arms it directs against the Lebanese people rather than the enemies of the country.
At this point, let us deal with Iraq, Iran’s third card in its Middle Eastern project. In Iraq, the term “coexistence” is defined in a bizarre manner, only rivaled by the official Iraqi concept of sovereignty.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is currently pursuing the same strategy his ally, Assad, is following in Syria. This strategy sends a clear message to the international community: either you recognize that we and our Iranian benefactors are moderate, and thus you cooperate with us, or you will have to deal with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. No need here to dwell much on the hidden exploitative and intersecting relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda.
Isn’t it surprising how the al-Qaeda-linked ISIS fighters were able to suddenly appear in the cities of Anbar province after Maliki prepared to strike the sit-ins in the predominantly Sunni province? Isn’t it strange how the Syrian scenario, which we have witnessed in the rural areas of Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa, has been reconstructed within a few days in Fallujah and Ramadi?
Under such circumstances, can anyone be optimistic about the prospective outcomes of Geneva II?
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 16, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances