Mideast News & Politics
- Published on Sunday, 13 May 2012 07:09
- Category: U.S. News
Embattled Syrian president Bashar Assad is a despot and a tyrant of the worst breed. He ranks right up there with the late Moammar Gaddafi of Libya and Egypt’s former autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Unlike his partners in tyranny, why hasn’t he been toppled?
The uprisings and overthrows of the“Arab Spring” that swept through Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were not protracted affairs. The initial results were rather quick for such a historic affair: a massive popular movement overthrew established dictatorships in some countries and prompted political changes in others.
Yet when it comes to Syria, Assad still stands. Why is it that after a year of opposition movements, Syria’s vicious ruler still remains in power with no clear indication that his reign is limited? Why has the population protesting his failed and violent policies not ousted him yet? Is Assad a different, insurmountable beast?
Unlike other Arab countries that have undergone revolutionary change, Syria’s population is not comprised of one major bloc. It consists of many minorities, the largest being the Shia Muslim minority. But Syria also has larger Christian, Catholic and Jewish minorities; all of these blocs are right to be genuinely concerned with what life post-Assad might mean for them. The Arab world seems to be increasingly monopolized by a U.S.-backed Saudi government and the Muslim Brotherhood that has proven to be more popular with each election. A post-Assad Syria would either turn harshly Sunni or rigidly Islamist, but is unlikely to remain secular. Historically, when citizens of a country seek change, they tend to seek the opposite of those that were in power. For Syria that means a pro-Islamic movement is likely to surface. Added to that the pressure of a mostly Islamist surrounding in the Arab world, the eventual move towards adoption of an Islamist regime seems inevitable in Syria. The same is happening today in Egypt where citizens seeking a change want anyone not affiliated with the current regime, and with Hazem Abd al Azim out, the only viable options are Brotherhood related.
So, why is the United States supporting Assad’s removal? Maybe the same United States that extols the values of separating church and state does not like a secular Syria. Perhaps it wants to support the establishment of even more Sunni countries in the Middle East.
Is it possible that the United States and Saudi Arabia are trying to turn the world against Shiism?
In Syria, it may very well be the case that large blocs of the population are not against Assad because his presence guarantees, to a certain extent, the safety and security of minorities particularly the Shia who have been isolated elsewhere.
When Iraq went from a secular regime under Saddam Hussain to a Shiite one, also thanks to U.S. intervention, the scales tipped in favor of the Iranians. The U.S. did not foresee that happening, and now it wants to create a buffer between the Iranians and the Sunni countries. This is where Iran’s neighbor and ally Syria comes into play. If revolution happens in Syria, the U.S. can help assure a Sunni-led government will take power.
As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come to an end and the United States now has influence in these countries, it seems we can now surround Iran with pro-west, pro-Israeli governments, even if that means supporting religious, Sunni regimes as long as they are allied with the West; even if this means selling out on its ideal to support democracy. Here is where the spotlight on Syria comes into play. If Syria becomes a western puppet, Iran will be surrounded with Afghanistan on one side, Iraq and Syria on the other borders. This direct benefit to the United States is too promising to silence, hence the calls for Assad’s ouster. The Syrian story is thus the Shia story, a story that the United States and Sunni powers want to move to the sidelines.
Disagree? Well, why else would the United States so quickly and adamantly advocate Assad’s removal? Perhaps it is for human rights concerns. Maybe, but that’s definitely not the only reason. If the United States supported democracy rather than one-sided hegemony, it would not blindly support a strictly religious country, which practices sharia law and sidelines democracy, minority and women’s rights in the process. The regime of Bashar al Assad has been called many things: violent, tyrannical, even genocidal, but the one thing that the United States will never admit is that Assad’s regime is not the most tyrannical nor even the most conservative in the Middle East. In fact, the country with the highest number of limits on freedom is one of the strongest allies of the United States: Saudi Arabia. But the U.S. loudly supports Saudi Arabia. How different really is the house of Al-Saud from that of Al-Assad?
Both are autocratic and oppressive dynasties that have come and stayed in power illegitimately, except women and minorities have more rights in Syria where all minorities have equal rights and are considered Arab despite religious affiliation. Assad’s regime is also secular, amidst a predominately Sunni environment. Isn’t the U.S. a strong supporter of secular governments and democratic rule? Yet a country that supports secular governments has gone against one of the most secular countries in the Middle East, leaving the strongest religious country in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, in tact and prepared to extend its sphere of influence. Assad’s regime is gaining international ire for defending its rule with violence, yet it’s okay for the Saudis to march into the Shia-majority Bahrain to crush the protests and ensure the monarchy of the Sunni ruler. Where was the United States’ outrage against crushing human protests then?
The Saudis wanted to stop majority rule from being allowed in Bahrain, knowing if that occurred they would lose a Sunni ruler due to Bahrain’s Shia majority. And the United States silently allowed its wealthy, oil-producing ally to squelch that democratic process. In allowing and even supporting this process, the U.S. has sided with Islamic extremists. Wahhabbism is the state religion of Saudi Arabia, the same philsophical underpinnings Al-Qaeda espouses. In other words, allowing Saudi Arabia to do as it wishes without following the democratic process, the United States is setting up a trend that may cost it in the future. If the Saudis decide to turn this power against U.S. interests, what then will be our justification?
If Assad is toppled, Al-Qaeda notches another win. Syria is still a secular state, but it is unlikely to remain so if Assad is removed. A secular state in the Middle East is thus vulnerable for capture by Islamist extremists such as Al-Qaeda. Syria, being a mosaic of varying minorities, has many religious and cultural influences that can easily take over the countries current secular stance. Not to mention, working against the Shia minority in various countries will polarize another sect of Islam against the U.S. On the other hand, the Sunni monopoly is gaining a firm hold, easily killing off any democratic rights that secular regimes might aspire to put in place with its autocratic power play.
If the United States is seeking to bring down Assad’s regime because it is the democratic and right thing to do, then when will we see elections in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain? If this is about bringing down Assad’s tyranny, then why is it that we are on the same side as Al-Qaeda? Assad must be doing something right to gain the distrust of Al-Qaeda’s leadership, but then again why are we playing on the same side as the terrorist organization we are most against? Perhaps there is something bigger going on in Syria, something more like a Tsunami than a spring in which Shi’ism is meeting its decline. Iran is the only predominately Shia state in which Shia authority is still in power. Is the advocacy against Syria here to bring about the downfall of Shiism? And is it wise to remove a counterpoint to the growing Sunni extremism in the Arab world?
Strangely it seems that as the U.S domestic political spectrum battles between the extremes, our foreign policy too is moving away from moderation to support controversial philosophies abroad.By Samreen Hooda and Shamez Babvani, Aslan Media Contributors