Eyad Abu Shakra

How Is It Possible Not to ‘Politicize’ the Syrian Crisis?

I do understand that many in the Arab world are so sick and tired of lengthy crises that they can’t wait for any kind of settlement, in the absence of a genuine solution.

I understand this, because this geographical giant that extends from the Atlantic to the Arabian Gulf, is full of big and small problems. They are for all to see; and as usual, Arab divisions are never dealt with the much - needed frankness nor necessary realism, but rather by spite, pugnacity and narrow-minded selfishness that always make matters worse.

We do not need to dwell long on the Palestinian predicament. We have memorized its painful lessons a long time ago. In fact, since the first tank rolled out of one of Syria’s military bases to usher the first ‘post- Israel’ Arab coup in 1949. Since then, a new element became very much part of the approaches adopted by Arab states – be they recently created, in the process of development, or nearing independence – which is the military approach.

Armies in ‘Third World’ countries, in general, and particularly in some Arab countries that are new to democracy, have gradually become not only the ‘strongest party’ but also the de facto ‘ruling establishment. This has taken place; as armies displaced the old traditional parties, or benefitted from these parties’ making themselves irrelevant as a result of failing to accommodate political and social change. In this transitional period, parties ceased to mean much to ordinary people as they began to lose their tribal, sectarian and regional power base while failing to compensate this loss by building interest-based relationships that would justify these parties’ survival.

This is what happened throughout the 1950s and 1960s up to the Six Days’ War of June 1967. The Arab defeat of 1967 shook the armies’ status as ‘ruling establishments’, as slogans of ‘people's’ liberation wars’ spread fast in the region parallel to growing doubts among America’s decision makers in being able to win the Vietnam war.

In 1966, Robert McNamara, the US Defense Secretary and one of the ‘architects’ of Washington’s policy in Indochina, candidly expressed his doubts of defeating the then USSR and China – backed Communist Viet Cong rebels and the North Vietnamese army. Indeed, America’s retreat from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was the greatest military victory of the global ‘Left’ and the principle of ‘peoples liberation wars’ since the Communist gained control of China.

Sure enough, the USA learned the lessons of Indochina, and later on lessons from other parts of the world, such as Angola and Ethiopia, and has since prepared and implemented the plans for ‘counter-revolution’.

In the Middle East, following the ‘red tide’, the ‘Left’ began to retreat, first in Egypt (the expulsion of Soviet military advisers, then signing the Camp David Agreements) and in Afghanistan (the defeat of the Communists at the hands of Islamist ‘Mujahedin’). Then, nearing the end of ‘The Cold War’ that was marked by the collapse of the USSR in late 1991, many Moscow and Beijing-backed governments collapsed too, as a result of the demise of the USSR and the metamorphoses of China.

‘Political Polarity’ in the Middle East (Arab and non-Arab) has moved away from the old Right-Left confrontation to a confrontation between the two vanguards of the victorious Right; i.e. The military and the religious parties. This has been the ‘easy summation’ of viewed ‘The Arab Spring’ of the late 2010 and early 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Libya. Thus, we have refused to recognize any aspiration for change outside the groups of ‘political Islam’, and any interest in stability and social harmony outside the military and security agencies’ realm.

Given the above, what we have done – as a society – is to totally ignore the aspirations and ambitions of intellectuals, liberal right-wingers, moderate leftists, non-Chauvinist nationalists, and even non-politicized independents and ordinary citizens. This is sinister indeed; as we always trumpet the need for a tolerant and rational ‘civil society’ that looks hopefully for the future, and dream of comparing our societies with the advanced societies of Europe and USA, not only the rising societies of Asia.

At this juncture, why not touch on the situation in Syria, where there seem to be several competing ‘scenarios’ taking shape and about to be imposed on the Syrians, and later – perhaps – on the region as a whole.

No doubt, there is not one Arab side capable of confronting the Russian offensive in Syria; more so if such an offensive is tacitly or partially supported by Washington.
Furthermore, it is obvious that there is, at least, a temporary agreement on the following:

1- The main enemy targeted for elimination are certain militant Sunni Muslim groups, although many of which have always been penetrated and ‘used’ by the Damascus regime and its regional and international backers. The task given to these militants has been to hijack, undermine and demonize the people’s uprising in order to justify attacking and liquidating it.

2- Create de facto ‘zones of influence’ serving the interests of regional players in the Syrian arena, now that massacres and mass displacement have made impossible any attempt to revive the old ‘centralized state’.

3- Weakening the influence of Tehran, as a first step towards reaching a modus vivendi with a ‘well-behaved Iran’, and turning this new Iran into a player that the Russians would stop using to blackmail Washington, while both Washington and Moscow would continue to use as a ‘bogeyman’ for the Arabs, and a ‘spare ally’ against the Turks.

4- Recognizing Israel’s fears as well as its regional ambitions, with both the Americans and Russians striving to agree on a long-term plan to that effect. In fact, after 7 years of war in Syria, Israel has emerged as the major winner.

For a long time now, and after effectively killing off the Geneva Peace Process, Moscow has been calling ‘to take politics out of the plans to rebuilding Syria’. Before that, it always claimed that siding with the Damascus regime does not mean it whole-heartedly supporting it as much as it means fighting terrorism!

The Russians later came up with the ‘de-escalation zones’ plan – also ‘without politicization’ – which has proven to be nothing but a continuation of the strategy of enforced displacement under the label of ‘reconciliations’. In the meantime, the international community represented by the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura was continuing its absurd plans for constitutional reform… also ‘without politicization’!

Now, Moscow with other capitals are promoting the idea of re-opening border crossings in a shy, but clear, attempt to normalize relations with and rehabilitate the regime. This too is being promoted, of course, ‘without politicization’!

Well, if all these steps are being taken ‘without politicization’ how would politicization look like, I wonder!