Listening to UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and following the ongoing infighting raging in Aleppo, Idlib and Hamah provinces, between the ‘Islamist’ armed opposition groups, are enough to uncover the terrible conspiracy that seems to have succeeded in putting down the uprising of the Syrian masses before it completed its sixth years.
It is also sufficient to watch the proliferation of ‘opposition platforms’ - such an ugly and meaningless term - here and there like poisonous mushroom, if not in capitals friendly or supportive of Bashar Al-Assad and Iran’s Mullahs, then in the Humaymeem Russian Airforce Base in Latakia province from which Russia’s air force bombers raze Syria’s villages, towns and cities… including Aleppo.
Then, look no further than how rational enlightened personalities that spoke for the ‘revolution’ a few years ago, have been pushed away by bearded-militiamen, opportunist henchmen, and exclusionist sectarians.
Then keep in mind a conspiring international community which has exploited every weakness in the political culture of a long suffering population, living for more than half a century under a ‘police-state’ dictatorship; and examine fake ‘friendships’ that have drugged, dispirited and splintered the opposition while helping a murderous regime to get back on its feet.
The bitter pill
Today, in what looks like a race against time, what has remained of the real opposition is trying to swallow the bitter pill of including in their negotiating team many from the fake ‘opposition’. Indeed, some of the latter have been chosen by Russia, Al-Assad’s main military backer, while the forthcoming negotiations are expected to be as useless as the previous ones, so long they are under the same international sponsorship and UN special envoy.
This is also taking place after the international community shifted its ‘priorities’ away from regime change and building a democratic Syria, to fighting terrorist groups which the regime and its backers, had helped create and promote. And major world capitals had allowed it to grow and expand, when for four years they stubbornly refused the demands of ‘safe havens’ and ‘no-fly zones’.
The Syrian regime, as the Syrians have discovered lately, has been a ‘necessity’ for everybody but themselves. It has been a much needed servant to those keeping it, despite its crimes; simply because its crimes have been serving their interestsEyad Abu Shakra
Furthermore, the fate of the Syrian people - for around six years being driven towards death, displacement or despair - has become a matter of expediency, while the new maps of the Middle East are being drawn, based on ambitions and exchanged interests. Even those who still think the international political wind is blowing in the favor of their religious, sectarian and ethnic interests may eventually discover, like many before them, they were sacrificed for greater deals cut above their heads.
For this instance, I recall the period when Western powers - namely USA and UK - were busy preparing to bring down Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Particularly, I remember the deep divisions that were the hallmark of the Iraqi opposition factions. This fact was clear to all at the ‘London Conference’ before it was concluded by a 22 points declaration in December 2002.
The new taboo
Before the destructive ill feelings later emerged, the above-mentioned ‘declaration’ recognized Iraq’s diversity, and claimed to respect the countries’ sects and parties. However, the most important part was, despite the divergence between the words and the intentions of those who signed it, there was an evident will - at least in Washington and London - to effect regime change in Baghdad.
The divisions tearing apart the Iraqi opposition factions then were as bad if not worse than those plaguing Syria’s opposition groups today. The difference, however, between the two cases was that while the momentum to bring down Iraq’s regime was obvious, the same could not be said about Syria’s. While intentions and plans then claimed that the Iraqis, the Middle East and the whole world be better off without the Baghdad regime, the approach to the situation was and still is quite different.
It may not be possible here and now to discuss in full detail what made ousting Saddam perfectly right, but is now taboo in Al-Assad’s case. But one can look, first, at the interests of the major regional players; and second at the international scene in 2002 and now.
In 2002 there was at least a tacit agreement between Israel and Iran to get rid of a ‘common enemy’. The Iraqi regime had also lost a significant part of its Arab ‘cover’ following its invasion of Kuwait, which created a climate of mistrust and doubts throughout the Gulf region. This made it isolated and vulnerable.
As for Turkey, it had not then taken forceful strides under the banner of ‘political Islam’ which is now established, after 15 years of the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his colleagues.
Vladimir Putin’s hesitant Russia of 2002, just emerging from the Boris Yeltsin era, was totally different from the 2017 Putin’s Russia. It was not capable then of doing what it is doing now - taking risks, threatening, conquering, even, interfering in elections in major Western powers. And sure enough, both the USA and the UK were under strong and decisive leaderships in 2002 unlike today.
During the last 15 years a lot has changed in Syria and Iraq, as well as in the rest of the Arab world.
Iran, with American blessings embodied in the JCPOA fathered by Barack Obama, is now the dominant force in several Arab capitals that seem to have forgotten their Arab identities, such as Baghdad and Damascus. The ‘Arab Spring’ has managed to uproot the desiccated shoots before the flowering of the buds. Even Turkey, dreaming of combining the ‘opposites’: the Ottoman Caliphate and Ataturk’s nationalism, has been brought back to reality by Russia’s old animosities and America’s betrayal.
Finally, Israel under the Likud is now so relaxed and relieved thanks to the ‘Arab Fatigue’, that it is completing the ‘Judification’ of the whole Palestine.
Thus, circumstances in 2002 facilitated the disabling of the former Iraqi regime through the creation of ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’. On the contrary, the role the Syrian regime has played since it came to power in the autumn of 1970, has not only been accepted, but also required regionally and internationally. It has been an excellent ‘mail box’, an effective ‘buffer zone’ on Israel’s northern borders, and a valuable trap - serving Western powers - in catching and blackmailing naïve and misguided Arab radicals.
The Syrian regime, as the Syrians have discovered lately, has been a ‘necessity’ for everybody but themselves. It has been a much needed servant to those keeping it, despite its crimes; simply because its crimes have been serving their interests.
This article was first published on Asharq Al-Awsat.
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. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.