The fact is that this is a civil war that is going on in Syria. To deny that and call it something else is to prevaricate. It is a brutal civil war but not in every part of the country. Both the government and the rebels have done and are doing terrible things. There are no Geneva conventions here!
It isn’t new for Syria. The two powerful strands in the country are the secular Baath, led by the Assads and based on the approx 30 % religious minorities; and the Moslem Brethren based on the Sunni majority. In a sense this uprising is the latest round in a history of brutality between them, going back for decades.
As we have consistently reported over past months, arms have been flowing to the rebels from Saudi Arabia; Jordan; Lebanon and Iraq; indeed generally from the Sunni Moslem neighbours, because what the west seems to have not yet fully caught onto is that:
Baath Syria is, as Baath Iraq was also, a secular state where all religions and none are equally acceptable.
SYRIA currently occupies a lot of news time. Those brave but reckless western journalists reporting from inside SYRIA are mostly there without permission, and so have their mentors from amongst the rebel groups, get their news and shoot their film from the perspective of the rebels on the receiving end of the shelling, etc. That does enable readers and viewers to have reports and see, not only the violence of the military assault, but also some of the horrors perpetrated by the rebels, particularly in literally ‘butchering’ certain classes of prisoner.
The government knows it is in a civil war, which it does not intend to lose. The western ‘line’ to have the president stand down, is presumably to allow a democratic choice of a successor. Such a presumption is either cynical in the extreme, or plain naïve. But ‘naïve’ won’t do for the US, UK or French foreign ministries.
They have picked sides. Yet the side they want to win has at least four heads. The BBC published a ‘Guide to the Syrian Opposition,’ which it says is “fractious and deeply divided.” The Syrian National Council that Foreign Secretary Hague of the UK is backing, are largely exiles living outside the country. Whatever the other opposition groups stand for, the one that matters is the Moslem Brotherhood. They have always been there and have rebelled before, based on Hama and Homs in 1982 when they took fearful casualties. If the overthrow of the Alawites were possible, then there is no doubt who a ‘democratic Syria’ would choose, as in Tunisia and Egypt. The majority are of course Sunni, (hence the support of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) but with a large minority, some 30% to 33% who are not. Neighbouring Iraq already has a de facto Shia government, much to the dismay of the Saudis whose major worry at this time is their confrontation with Iran. Now the US has withdrawn, Iran indeed can be seen to be the major beneficiary of the US 1993 invasion of Iraq. So much for miscalculation!
Indeed the US, UK, and French support for the rebels - any rebels, would seem primarily to be driven by the desire to eradicate Iran’s only Arab ally. Is it that it simply seems too good an opportunity to allow to pass by?
“The Friends of Syria” the name for the US/UK/ France conference held in late February in neighbouring Tunisia, was used by grandstanding western statespeople to protest the Syrian government’s assault on the rebel base area in Homs, in which many innocent civilians mixed up with the armed rebels, have undoubtedly suffered death and mutilation. But this illustrates that it is a civil war, inevitably ugly and unspeakably cruel. It is not very different to the recent events in Libya, but the upshot of that, where the NATO contribution made the big difference, can now be seen in the state of chaos that remains.
The Arab League as arbiters of democracy (see below) are a sad, bad joke. So many of their members - and of the western governments involved, have got a dog in this fight. Can there be any doubt that the US/ UK/ France/ Israel/Turkey see this as an opportunity to stick it to the Iranians? Their talk of peaceful resolutions, yet instant dismissive reaction to Assad’s referendum, indicates simply that they want him gone. But if that happened, the Alawites who would quite rightly be in fear of their lives, would pick another leader, his ’attack dog’ brother perhaps, a pugnacious Special Forces general.
Syria having been cold shouldered except by Russia, since the time of the Israeli wars, had found an ally in Iran. This, unusually for the middle-east has not been a matter of religion, since Syria has long been a secular state where all religions or none, are a personal matter for their citizens. The Alawites, like most of the other minorities, are one variety of ‘nonconformist’ Moslem, as are the Druses, the Ismailis, the Shia and more, who differ from the majority primarily in that they are not mainstream (Sunni). With a secular constitution, before beating up its own people, Syria could have been said, by definition, to be one step (a long stride to be sure), nearer a western style democracy than any others except Lebanon, in the Arab world (which as we can see, is still a very long way).
After a full year of revolution there are at least four separate Syrian rebel organisations each with different backers. Which would dominate, should they succeed? To the mainstream Sunni, it is an affront to belong to a state which allows freedom of religion. ‘Secular’ simply means ‘godless’ to the rebels, who are motivated to bring in sharia law and the dominance of their religion, (yet outsiders will claim as we do, that a secular state is a necessary forerunner of democracy).
The organised rebels are doubtless enhanced by nascent democrats, as in Egypt ‘the internet savvy’ generation, and those who have lost family members, but the long existing mainstream rebels of the Moslem Brotherhood desire particular change which, includes rejoining the umma, thus restoring the power of religion – specifically the Sunni branch of Islam. They also want revenge on the al-Assads and the Alawites.
To the rebels, self-evidently ‘God’ is a cause worth dying for. None of this is to deny that the government of the Alawites have run a tight ship in Syria, allied with the other minorities –Syrian Orthodox Christian, Druses, Kurds, Shi-ites, Ismailis, Armenian Christians, together totalling about a third of the population. In this severe regime they have not been significantly different to the other nations of the Arab Awakening, to which freedom and justice are strangers. The Sunni middle-class here have been compensated with light government and taxes, and have prospered. Hence central Damascus and Aleppo - the main business and population centres, have remained supportive of the Assads. The rebels have little support there, in fact to the contrary, since the revolt has obviously had a major negative impact on business.
There is a probability and this is our main fear, that if this civil war goes to the rebels, the Alawites and the other minorities including the Syrian and Armenian Christians with whom they are allied, would be subject to a far reaching religious purge, a terrible religious war, with the west, as now, standing helpless on the sidelines.
Under the Assad family it has long been by western standards, cruel to its enemies, and in this fighting it certainly has matched or even outdone the rebels, brutality for brutality. Of course the government can be seen to be doing this by their use of artillery, but it is not a solution for Assad to step down, to make way as the Western governments wish, for what? A democratic government like… where exactly?
See below: The ARAB LEAGUE. On which Arab state should a new Syria model itself?
Our SYRIA report concludes that ‘stalemate’ might be how that nation and this crisis will wind up. The fact is that this has been the ugliest confrontation in the ‘Arab Awakening’ with issues about heresy as prominent as democracy, and deep divides between the western powers with Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, and their Syrian proxies, none of which happened in the case of Libya. (Go To SYRIA)
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Their highest ranking is 74th place out of 150 nations in the world! To have the Arab League pontificate about democracy is simply ludicrous. They were formed in 1945 and this is as far as they’ve got with their civil societies, after 67 years of sharing the world with all the many different forms that there are of political organisation. More >>