Marine Le Pen, the French extreme right’s presidential candidate, clearly summed up how the West regards the Syrian Revolt, which erupted six years ago.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV channel, she replied to a question about her view of Bashar al-Assad by saying: “If I were to choose between al-Assad and ISIS I shall choose al-Assad”. This is a fact well-known to the sponsors and defenders of the Syrian regime. Thus, in order to save the regime it was necessary to derail the popular uprising, destroy its moderate armed and unarmed elements, and deprive the true ‘revolutionaries’ of all kinds of support and protection.
This is how we have reached the current ‘ideal’ scenario. The Syrian people are now out of the equation. What has been unfolding for the last six years is being depicted before the world as a straight ‘choice’ between a regime that is willing to concede to all but its own people and a dubious extremist terror most of which is foreign.
It was necessary to defend the regime that since its founding, in 1970, has been providing valuable ‘services’ to several powers. Letting this regime fall has never been an option. Even after resorting to excessive violence in confronting the children of Daraa and Hama’s massive peaceful demonstration during the summer of 2011, it became obvious that the international community was intent on trivializing its crimes while undermining the credibility of its opponents.
In a chat I had four years ago with Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the British Politician – who was a diligent campaigner on behalf of the victims of former Iraq’s president Saddam Hussein – she suggested Syrian refugees should return home; adding “Assad is not another Saddam Hussein… they will be fine under his regime!”.
In the same vein, one cannot forget former US president Barack Obama and his advisors, such as Philip Gordon, Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Denis McDonough and Jake Sullivan. Obama played the major role in ‘redefining’ Washington’s practical priorities in Syria.
Committed to a nuclear and strategic deal with Iran, Obama, like Le Pen, believed that the top priority in Syria was to confront ISIS; despite the fact that the terrorist group, in its current form, appeared on the scene no less two years after the peaceful popular uprising and the regime’s bloody attempts to crush it. Indeed, Obama made fun of the moderate opposition, and dismissed its constituents while repeatedly refusing to protect Syrian civilians through imposing ‘no-fly zones’ and “safe havens”.
The regime has always looked for the ‘content’ rather than the ‘form’ in setting the priorities of maintaining power. All loud slogans of Arabism, Secularism and Socialism have been proven meaninglessEyad Abu Shakra
Israel too has chosen – at least on face value – to look ‘neutral’ between Assad and the Revolt. However, in reality, as one could deduce from the comments of its senior intelligence and security figures, it has been happy that Syrian ‘hemorrhage’ continues; and on the other hand, regards Assad as ‘the lesser of two evils’ compared with ISIS and fellow extremist ‘Jabhat Al-Nusra’.
In fact, it is understandable and quite logical that Israel should actively – albeit tacitly – strive to keep an Arab regime which has since 1973 proven to be most capable to defend its borders and eliminate it enemies while claiming on every occasion to be its ‘steadfast’ adversary.
As for Assad regime, it has understood from the very beginning that, regardless of the individual position towards its policies and actions, it would continue to be accepted by many major regional and global powers. It would be preferred by these powers to any democratic alternative representing the lively forces in Syria.
The Assad regime has realized, first, that it is a much needed tool in maintaining the state of weakness and division in the Middle East; hence, it would be impossible that those who have ‘used’ it for decades would let it fall. Secondly, the regime has always looked for the ‘content’ rather than the ‘form’ in setting the priorities of maintaining power. All loud slogans of Arabism, Secularism and Socialism have been proven meaningless.
Arabism means nothing when intersecting regional calculations of Iran, Israel, Turkey and Russia are based on and benefit from ethnic and sectarian fault lines. Secularism too means nothing when sectarian identity defines the scale of influence, and when religious, sectarian and ethnic cleansing becomes a strategy for survival.
And last but not least, Socialism, too, means nothing in a country controlled by monopolistic clan-based ‘mafias’ serving local and regional interests; and where trade unions and peasant federations metamorphose into mercenary gangs and cheering ‘crowds’.
This is the image of the besieged and ‘orphaned’ Syrian Revolt six years after the demonstrations in the Damascus market and Daraa’s children anti-regime graffiti.
Having said this, however, Syria’s opposition groups have not been blameless. Some of their mistakes may be understandable keeping in mind the huge psychological damage a lengthy dictatorship has caused to the Syrian psyche, but other mistakes deserve blame if not condemnation.
In the first case several opposition groups paid a heavy price for being ‘penetrated’ by regime agents posing as opposition activists. The latter carried out exactly what they had been instructed to do politically and militarily. Some of the regime’s agents actually even appeared in pictures as fighters with extremist militias. Others took part as opposition figures in political conferences where they caused confusion and wreaked havoc, then returned to the bosom of the regime in Damascus, after carrying out their ‘dirty job’.
However, in the second case, individualism, opportunism and spite have plagued genuine opposition groups and weakened their credibility. Thus, regional as well as international powers have managed to impose their own agendas on these groups; and even create their own groups that reflect the interest of the foreign powers rather than that of the Syrian people. This dangerous development has led many armed opposition groups to the trap of extreme sectarian fragmentation; consequently serving the interests of Russia and Iran.
Furthermore it had provided dubious elements which had claimed to be ‘non-sectarian’ to tour Western countries inciting against the Revolt. On the other hand, well-meaning opposition elements naively trusted and defended extremist groups that later began fratricidal ‘gang wars’; thus, allowing extremism and bigotry to alienate and dishearten many people.
It is not too late to save Syria’s Revolt, nor is it too late to uncover those conspiring against it. But it is now the right time to begin a candid and serious review before the situation deteriorates further, and the Revolt loses all those who are qualified to rebuild the country the moment destruction stops.
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.