What’s behind Egypt’s stance on the Syrian war?
Egyptian animosity towards the Syrian uprising is largely based on a false conviction
The recent negative attitude of some Egyptian media outlets, as well as Egyptian Arabists and Leftists, towards the Syrian opposition is truly surprising and has verged on blatant animosity.
The absurdity of this is obvious with some analysis, despite the fact that slogans calling for change in Egypt and Tunisia were the spark that triggered the Syrian revolution. The events in Egypt in January 2011 directly inspired the uprising in Deraa in mid-March 2011.
As we all know, internal Egyptian discontent prompted the transformation that took place in Egypt on Jan. 25, 2011. It was an expression of domestic opposition to a regime unconcerned with the needs of the people and neglectful of their individual and social freedoms. In other words, those who sparked the change in Egypt were not seeking the liberation of Palestine or the unification of the Arab or Muslim worlds. Today, a large proportion of Egyptians believe that Islamist groups—which benefitted most from the change—have taken advantage of the popular uprising. Islamists rode the wave of change, adopting populist slogans while hiding their real motives, which the majority of the Egyptian public did not and still do not share.
Egypt’s armed forces took the wise decision to refuse to confront its own people. By avoiding a bloody confrontation, the military establishment spared Egypt a civil war, and their clear position convinced then-president Hosni Mubarak that he had to resign. Later on, when the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammad Mursi, seemed to be trying to consolidate his own power, he lost so much popular support the people sought an end to his rule as well. Trusted by many as “protector of the nation,” the military establishment stepped in and ousted Mursi in the summer of 2013.
Syria had a similar story
In Syria, the initial popular aspirations were quite similar to those in Egypt. They were first and foremost “Syrian” in character. The Syrian uprising was and remained for at least 10 months entirely peaceful. It was the Syrian regime that chose to confront its own people with a violent crackdown, exploiting the guaranteed allegiances it had cultivated in the ranks of the army. As the regime intensified its crackdown and began waging a full-scale war on its people, it showed it had no qualms about killing civilians and destroying their cities and villages.
Egyptian animosity towards the Syrian uprising is largely based on the false conviction that there were common interests between post-Brotherhood Egypt and anti-Islamist Syria under Bashar al-AssadCeylan Ozbudak
The parochial, sectarian allegiances within the military–security establishment exposed the real role the regime had long assigned to it. The Syrian Army was never meant to defend the nation or liberate the occupied Golan Heights, and the main function of the security services was to protect an oppressive, sectarian police state and cater to its greedy ambitions.
Another marked difference between the ruling regimes and their military and security establishments in Syria and Egypt lies in their respective political discourses. The ruling elites in Egypt adopted “Egyptian” slogans, rather than socialist pan-Arabist ones.
In Syria, the opposite happened, because since its inception the state has embraced a pan-Arabist, anti-Israel discourse with socialist overtones. Recent events, however, have brazenly exposed the falsehood of this discourse. They have revealed the true nature of the Damascus regime, a sectarian junta subservient to Iran, and whose very formation and practices are dedicated to the service of the interests of a parasitic family that has monopolized power in Syria for decades.
Where are we heading now? And why is the Egyptian attitude towards the Syrian uprising so negative?
To begin with, we must acknowledge that, unfortunately, this negative attitude is not limited to irresponsible media outlets. It is also evidently held by some senior political figures, who are supposed to be sympathetic to oppressed Syrians and keen on Arab brotherhood.
More significantly, the Egyptian animosity towards the Syrian uprising is largely based on the false conviction that there were common interests between post-Brotherhood Egypt and anti-Islamist Syria under Bashar al-Assad. Some have even taken their enmity so far as to gloat over the plight of Homs and praise Assad’s gains in his war against the opposition.
There are some who justify their support of Assad and Iran on the pretext that the two regimes are fighting against the Brotherhood, and they tend to think of the Syrian uprising as an Islamist fundamentalist one. But they seem to forget the following facts:
First, during his short time in power President Mursi strongly supported Iran’s active participation in the resolution of the Syrian crisis. He was the one who suggested that Iran should join Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to form a four-way commission to handle the Syrian crisis—without first seeking the opinion of either Turkey or the Kingdom.
Second, Mursi, who was keen to overturn Mubarak’s anti-Iran policies, continued to be enthusiastic about rapprochement with Iran even after its direct strategic support for Damascus was exposed.
Third, Iran has been a direct sponsor of extremist Islamist organizations, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic Jihad and some factions within Hamas—not to mention certain other Islamist groups currently fighting the Egyptian government.
Fourth, the suspicious relationship between Iran and the Syrian regime on the one hand and ultra-fundamentalist groups such as ISIS on the other is no secret. The Syrian government warplanes busy shelling Syrian cities with barrel bombs have never targeted these groups’ strongholds, particularly in Raqqa, Hassakah and Deir Ezzor.
Fifth, before the Syrian uprising started, the Iraqi government accused the Syrian regime of facilitating the access of Al-Qaeda fighters into its territories.
Sixth, Iraqi Minister of Justice Hassan al-Shammari said in a recent interview that the security forces overseeing Abu Ghraib prison facilitated the escape of Islamist inmates in a bid to beef up Al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria, in an attempt to intimidate the United States and convince Washington that any other future rulers of Syria could even worse than the Assad regime.
These are simple facts known among Egyptians, who now judge the situation in Syria from a vengeful and parochial perspective.
The disastrous consequences of the current conspiracy, if it were successful, would not be limited to Syria alone.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 15, 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.
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