By Dr. Elias Akleh
Heads of states and representatives of 70 countries gathered on Friday 2/24/2012 in Tunisia in what they propagandized as “Friends of Syria Conference”. They came together, each has his own individual agenda different than the others’, yet they all agreed on one common goals; the removal of the present Syrian Bashar al-Assad’s political regime, the division of Syrian society into conflicting sectarian minorities, and the establishment of a new pro-Western/pro-Zionist and anti-Iran/anti-Hezbollah/anti-Palestinian regime similar to those in other Arabic Statelets such as Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen and other Gulf States.
Frustration and helplessness were highly apparent in the speeches and decisions of the major players in this conference. The frustration was due to the failure of Libyanizing Syria, the failure of all political pressures on Syria during the last eleven months, and the failure of Syrian armed militias to gain any popularity within the country and to affect any division within Syrian governmental institutions. The highest frustration came due to their failure of manipulating the United Nation and the Security Council against Syria due to the Russian and Chinese vetoes against any UN resolution attempting to legitimize any foreign military intervention in Syria.
Since its independence from the French mandate in 1946 Syria had marched slowly, though faster than many other Arab states, towards political reforms, human rights, freedom and economical growth. Syria has been governed by a constitution since 1973 unlike many Arab states that are still ruled by oppressive authoritarian absolute familial tribal monarchies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia who pretend to call for democracy in Syria. Like all other Arab ruling regimes in the region Syria has needs for more improvements. Yet foreign induced rebellions and civil wars would bring chaos, destruction and more authoritarian regimes (Tunisia, Egypt and Libya) rather than steady gradual reform. Syria had moved towards such gradual reform during the last eleven months further than what most Arab States had gone for the last forty years.
Syria had played a major positive role in the Arab World. It was a major founder of the Arab League in 1945 and had supported many of the Arab causes especially the Palestinian cause. In 1975 Syria got involved in the 15 years long Lebanese civil war in an attempt to preserve peace. Syrian troops left Lebanon in April 2005 allowing the Lebanese to form their own independent government. Syria and Iran supported Hezbollah’s struggle against Israeli occupation of Lebanon until liberation in 2000 when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. In 2006 Israeli aggression against Southern Lebanon in an attempt to wipe off Hezbollah some Arab States stood utterly silent while Qatar and Saudi Arabia cheered on, but Syria kept arming Hezbollah and hosted thousands of Lebanese refugees. Syria had also hosted around two million Iraqi refugees after the 2003 American occupation and destruction of Iraq. When Israel sent all its military might in December 2008 to destroy the already besieged, impoverished and hungry small Gaza Strip while Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, Qatar and Saudi Arabia cheered on again, Gaza Palestinians and the democratically elected Hamas did not find any help from any Arab state except Syria.
Although Syria accepted and joined in the American alleged fight against global terrorism (Al-Qaeda) its leaders had rejected and opposed the American New Middle East Project bringing on itself American anger. This anger intensified when Syria joined Iran in military and economical alliance. This alliance brought on also the hostility of Gulf States notably Saudi Arabia and the American base host, Qatar.
Syria has been a main resistance and oppositional front against the Zionist expansionist dream, a major opponent to the American hegemonic plans for the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, and an important ally to Iran that is considered a major enemy by USA and Israel. To get rid of Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel needs to weaken Syria. To control the oil-rich Gulf region the USA needs to get to Iran through Syria. There arose, therefore, in the West a decision to destroy the Syrian secular state, to divide it into smaller conflicting sectarian regions, to displace or co-opt the Syrian national elite, and eventually to install a pro-Western/pro-Zionist regime similar to that in Qatar and Saudi Arabia or at least an American-compliant Islamic republic similar to that in Tunisia and Egypt. Qatar and Saudi Arabia became the instruments used to manipulate the Arab League towards regime change in Syria.
Since Syria is out of the American domain, does not depend on American financial aid, does not buy weapons from any Western country, and is not dependent on any Western economy or trade agreement, it becomes very difficult for any Western interference to affect a regime change. So a sinister plan was put together to urge Syrians to revolt against their government. This plan was called “Arab Spring”. It was hoped that Syrians would be encouraged to revolt against their government after witnessing the seemingly successful revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Please read detailed analysis of the Arab Spring in previous article: “The Snake Behind the Arab Spring”
To avoid the fate of Libya Syrian regime hastened to speed up reform. The regime lifted the state of emergency right away, declared measures for reform, cooperated with the mandates of the Arab League to the surprise of other Arab leaders, allowed Arab observers in the country, and called for dialogue with the opposition within Syria and later in Russia, and finally introducing a new more democratic constitution and offered it to the masses for a referendum. The majority of the Syrian people countered the anti-regime demonstrations with massive pro-regime demonstrations. But the protesters and the movers behind them have evidently much more far-reaching goals in mind. They had refused all the compromising gestures offered by the regime, and demanded regime change before any dialogue. I wonder whom are they going to engage in dialogue with if the regime is not there!
When demonstrations did not gain popularity the extremists of the oppositions were pushed towards forming what is called Free Syrian Army (FSA) to commit violent acts, whose objective is to draw in armed security forces including the deployment of tanks and armored vehicles in order to give the Security Council the justification of foreign military intervention under NATO’s “Responsibility to Protect” mandate. Sophisticated weapons were smuggled in through Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The FSA attacked government institutions, police and army personnel, murdered some demonstrators, and bombed facilities and infrastructures in order to accuse security forces of these acts. Some were trained and armed by Qatari, Turkish, and British special operations units, who have been fighting in Homs alongside the rebels. Captured Turkish officers confessed of being trained in Israel according to Syrian MP Khaled el-Abbod. Members of Turkish Parliament Human Rights Committee declared that Syrian militias are being trained in guerilla warfare in camps in Antioch, Turkey. The unfortunate FSA were not a match for the well-trained and well-equipped Syrian security forces. Some of them got killed in battle, others were captured, and many of them are now dropping weapons and surrendering to the army. Their leaders are urging their foreign operatives to seek cease-fire, thus we witnessed the so-called Friends of Syria Conference calling for a cease-fire to allow alleged humanitarian aid to reach needy civilians (militias).
It is important to recognize that the Syrian opposition is comprised of at least two major factions; the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC). The SNC, whose leaders are outside of Syria in Europe and the US, was established in Istanbul, Turkey and seems to be the driving force behind the Free Syrian Army. It calls for the immediate and non-negotiable end of Bashar el-Assad’s regime and the establishment of a western-style democracy. The SNC calls for and welcomes Western intervention, and many of its leaders had openly called for Western and even Israeli military intervention. The SNC is supported by many Western countries and has been recognized on February 24 as “a, but not the only, representative” of the Syrian people.
The NCCDC, which was formed at a congress in Damascus, is largely based inside Syria with few members abroad. It is more moderate in its oppositional approach than the SNC. The NCCDC is strongly opposed to Western intervention although it is open to Arab intervention. It believes that the best solution to the Syrian crises is through dialogue with the Syrian regime in order to achieve a peaceful transition to a democratic rule. Although the NCCDC had, initially, sent a delegation to what is called “Friends of Syria” conference it boycotted the conference criticizing it of hijacking the will of the Syrian people through imposing and legitimizing who represents the people, and of escalating calls for military intervention.
The Friends of Syria Conference was doomed to failure since the planning. Thousands of Tunisians picketed the conference calling it “Friends of Israel” conference, denouncing the attendants, and chanting for Syria. Saud bin-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, withdrew from the conference complaining of its inefficiency because it did not support his call for foreign military intervention to protect the Syrian people by ousting al-Assad’s regime. His hypocrisy is so apparent in his oppressive absolute familial monarchy who is murdering the increasingly daily demonstrators in Qatif and Awamiyah demanding justice, freedom and democracy. Saudi Interior Ministry, Prince Naif bin Abdulazziz, described these demonstrators as terrorists and threatened to use iron fist against them. Close to 25% of Saudis, according to official consensus, are living under the poverty line; a scandalous fact in a super rich oil producing country, where all citizens could live leisurely have their rulers not horded the oil revenue exclusively for themselves. (Check youtube’s poverty in Saudi Arabia). Saudi’s alleged support for democracy does not appear in its sending the Peninsula Shield Forces to savagely murder freedom-seeking Bahraini peaceful demonstrators. Saudi’s sympathy for other Arab citizens was not apparent when its leaders cheered on for Israeli troops attacking South Lebanon in 2006 and in late 2008 when Israeli phosphorous bombs rained on helpless hungry Palestinian children in Gaza Strip.
Thrown by Syria’s cooperation with the mandates of the Arab League and by the failure of his financed terrorist armed militias (Free Syrian Army) and their recent calls to be saved from the attacks of the Syrian army by demanding a cease-fire, Hamad bin Jassim, the Prime Minister of Qatar, called for safe passage in Syria for what he claimed to be humanitarian aid to needy Syrian people, a ploy he used in the past in Libya’s case to smuggle weapons and to justify NATO’s military intervention. He also called for the formation of joined international and Arab military force to intervene in Syria. It is known to many that Qatar, the host of the largest American base, has been playing a major pro-American/pro-Zionist role in the region. This role could be seen in the destruction of Libya, in oppressing the Bahraini freedom-seeking demonstrators, in arming the so-called Free Syrian Army, and lately in manipulating the Palestinian/Palestinian (Fatah/Hamas) reconciliation efforts. According to Al’alam TV reports Saudi Prince Talal bin-Abdulaziz, the brother of Saudi king Abdullah bin-Abdulaziz, has exposed a Zionist/Qatari conspiracy to subdivide Saudi Arabia into smaller chunks, to destroy Syria and its regime, and to designate a part of Saudi northern desert as refugees camp-ground for Palestinians who will be evicted from occupied Palestine. It is worth noting here that the internet if full of pictures of Hamad bin Jassim and his absolute monarch Hamad bin Khalifa warmly shaking hands with Israeli criminal leaders such as Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni.
The Tunisian position had caused some French and Qatari resentment even days before the conference convened. Tunisia wanted to invite in particular Russia and China stating that without them the conference would have no real value. Also Tunisia, alongside with Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan, rejected Qatar’s request to recognize the SNC as the only legitimate representative of Syrians. At the opening of the conference Moncef Marzouki, the Tunisian president, rejected the idea of any military intervention in Syria and called for the formation of an Arab only peace keeping force in Syria accompanied by political efforts to convince el-Assad to leave the country by offering him judicial immunity and political asylum such as in Russia.
The Western countries, including the USA, have not yet found a suitable heir to el-Assad, who would meet their likings. Therefore, none of them is volunteering any of its troops as a peace keeping force or calling for any military solution. They wanted to spare their troops by having a Libyan style civil war where Arabs fight Arabs. The contrasting division between the different Syrian oppositional groups was not encouraging either. The only things they could offer are accusations of, and warnings to the el-Assad’s regime. President Obama threatened that he would use “every tool available to stop the slaughter in Syria” calling for further international pressure on el-Assad’s regime. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had nothing to offer except false predictions that el-Assad’s regime is getting closer to collapse. Obama and Clinton had left it to pro-Zionist senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to call for “tangible actions” should be taken, such as providing Syrian opposition (SNC and its FSA) with weapons, intelligence tools and aerial drone surveillance to “ensure that the Syrian people have the means to protect themselves against their attackers”.
Meanwhile el-Assad’s regime is moving along with political and social reforms. A draft of a new constitution was offered to the people in a referendum to be voted on Sunday 2/26. This draft deletes Article 8 of the old constitution stating that the Ba’ath party is the only ruling party in the country. It also offers a state system based on political pluralism, multiple political parties, political rule exercised through democratic vote, and assures the independence and free functions of executive, judicial and legislative powers. It also provides that society will be based on solidarity and respect for the principles of social justice, freedom, equality and preservation of human dignity of every individual, and that citizens have equal right and duties without discrimination based on sex, origin, language, religion or creed. It also ensures the freedom of press and publications as well as the independence of the media. Similarly, women are provided all opportunities that will enable them to contribute fully and effectively in all avenues of the country including political, economic, social, and cultural life.
Most important the new constitution also stipulates that the presidency will be open to candidates above 40 years old who will be elected by universal and secret elections, and limits her/his term to seven years with the option for a second term only if voters deemed it worthy.
Despite call for boycotting the referendum, by 5:00 pm Syria time it was estimated that between 70 -75% of the population had a taste of their new democratic right to vote. Peaceful achievement of genuine democracy is triumphing in Syria.
Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer from a Palestinian descent born in the town of Beit Jala. His family was first evicted from Haifa after the “Nakba” of 1948, then from Beit Jala after the “Nakseh” of 1967. He lives now in the US, and publishes his articles on the web in both English and Arabic.