I was among those who could not make out what was really going on in Syria during the last few years. I found it hard to accept Bashar al-Assad’s succession to power in Syria after his father Hafez al-Assad , so much so that at the time I wrote here in Watani that it appeared that “Republics, too, are heritable”. I could not grasp the unannounced—but on the ground—truce between Syria and Israel: no peace and no war. Nor could I swallow the brutal suppression by Assad’s regime and army of the uprising in Syria some two years ago. How could Assad stop his ears to the worldwide protest against his brutality towards his people? He had turned into a mindless tyrant who appeared to fiercely hold on to his authority, a gladiator with no qualms about exterminating his own people.
The Syrian uprising erupted while Egypt was on the first phase of its 25 January 2011 Revolution, following in the footsteps of Tunisia and joining the “Arab Spring” convoy. Yemen and Libya followed, with Syria close behind. Fervour reigned supreme in a region which had been for decades ruled by authoritarian, oppressive regimes. The peoples finally rebelled demanding freedom, dignity and social justice. Even though the reasons which triggered the uprising of the Arab peoples were almost one and the same, the path of Egypt’s revolution remained distinctive—or this was what we thought at the time. Egypt’s revolution was the least violent and bloody; her army aligned with the will of her people; her president stepped down without obstinacy or stubbornness, and he remained living on her soil and never fled. This placed Egypt’s revolution in a class of its own among others of the Arab Spring. The Tunisian revolution triumphed only after the then president Zein Eddin Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, and the Yemeni after fierce resistance on the part of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Libyans had to prise their freedom from the near-lunatic despot Qaddafi who elicited bitter laughter from the whole world when he threatened and brutally killed his people because they dared reject his tyrannical 40-year rule. So when the Syrian uprising erupted, we looked on apprehensively as Assad struck at the Syrian revolutionists, wondering if he would follow in Qaddafi’s footsteps, if his army would support him to the end, and whether or not the world would remain silent.
As the situation in Syria heated and the revolutionists grew stronger, conditions in Egypt were crystallising. The Muslim Brothers (MB) were gaining ground; and close on their heels came the Salafis, the Jihadis, and all the groups of political Islam. They jumped on the bandwagon of the Egyptian revolution and hijacked it, pulling Egypt away from her time-honoured civilisation, moderation, civic nature and even patriotism. Before long Egyptians split between supporters of the religious State and supporters of the civic State, and engaging in an extended bitter battle which was only settled with the emergence of Tamarud (Rebel) and their taking to the streets in massive numbers on 30 June 2013 to reclaim their revolution and save their nation.
In the meantime, our Syrian friends—those who live in Egypt, those who came visiting, or those who had fled Syria—surprised us by staunchly defending Assad and his battle against the revolutionists and the Syrian Liberation Army (SLA). They insisted Assad was not after authority, but was fighting for Syria to remain a civic State and to save it from falling in the clutches of political Islam, be that the MB, the Salafis or others who are all allied with Hamas and al-Qaeda. Our Syrian friends warned that the fall of Syria into the hands of any of them risks Syria and the entire region.
A different perspective of the Syrian crisis dawned on me, especially given that Egypt at the time was being forced to swallow the bitter MB rule. The State and its institutions had been Islamised, its foundations and various authorities destroyed, and anyone or anything non-Islamist excluded. This cast a special light on news coming from Syria; on the SLA, its actions and methods, and its treatment of the Syrians in places under its control. I was split between rejection of Assad’s use of violence and the threat that, otherwise, Syria would fall victim to a political Islam clone of the MB.
I woke up to a world bemoaning victims of internationally-banned chemical weapons used in Syria. The US and Europe accused Assad of the criminal deed, but Russia and a number of European countries accused the SLA. And please don’t ask how the Islamist SLA could have done that to its soldiers or civilians; we saw for ourselves how MB supporters in Egypt shot their comrades in the back in order to implicate the army and the police. We had come to know the Islamists are capable of anything.
The truth about the Syrian crisis has yet to emerge. One thing is obvious, though; that Assad and his army are not necessarily the villains, neither are the SLA revolutionists the angels.
15 September 2013