It may be inappropriate for me to neglect the situation in Egypt, in terms of the referendum and the state of social polarization which has reached its peak, to focus on another issue that many people have perhaps grown weary of, namely the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. In fact, the issue surrounding al-Assad’s ouster brings to mind the famous quote, attributed to American author [Mark Twain]: “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!” However what is required here is deliberateness; for we may not need to set-aside the talk about Egypt for long, however our dealings with Syria in this regard are based on two sources. Firstly, Bashar al-Assad’s top ally, Russia, issued a statement indicating that Moscow is now well aware that Bashar al-Assad’s era has truly come to an end, even if the “final scene” has yet to play out! Secondly, the situation on the ground in Syria is changing rapidly and al-Assad’s strongholds are falling one after another, whilst the battle has been transferred to the very heart of Damascus. Despite complaints, the Syrian rebels are now in possession of arms of a completely different quality than that which they previously possessed just a short time ago. Whilst it seems that their capabilities in this regard are only set to increase, particularly if they are able to convince the powers that be that such arms will not end up in the hands of parties that no nothing about freedom and democracy, as well as other principles espoused by the rebels.
In this particular instance, the Syrian story and Egyptian story appear to converge, as well as other stories of the same ilk. A short time ago, I said – in this very column – that Syria may be the last of the Arab Spring stories, not just because it has raised acute problems regarding Arab states and the status of minorities within them, but also regarding the extent of its democratization following the revolution. I stressed that the issue is not merely replacing one form of dictatorship with another, as was the case with the political circus that existed within the 1950s and 1960s under the banner of pan-Arabism. Whilst today, we are seeing the “Arab Spring” circus fall under the banner of “political Islam” during the second decade of this current century. Both of these have little idea about democracy, despite some of the attempts that have been made to bring about a convergence in views between these two “circuses” and ideas of freedom and liberalism. In fact, it would have been easier to combine these with the principles of fascism! The ultimate result of all this is that the moment of Bashar al-Assad’s ouster or collapse will have a number of repercussions on Syria’s closest neighbours, and it is likely that we will witness a prolonged game of musical chairs in which the music is that of chaos and confusion, whilst the fight for “chairs” will be violent.
It is likely that regime change in Syria will result in a period of review in which some major question are raised, such as: has the Arab Spring’s momentum reached its zenith or will this revolutionary wave continue to other states that have experienced a long political winter and which possess a youthful popular and prominent middle class? These youths and middle class will take everything that happened in the Arab Spring states into consideration, particularly the Egyptian experience, but also the Tunisian experience as well, at least to a certain extent. It is clear that the Yemeni and Libyan revolutionary experiences were very expensive, whilst the same goes for the Syrian revolution, regardless of what is achieved in the future. So there will be a lot of hard thinking in this regard, particularly in seeking to plot a course that avoids unrest, division, deplorable social conditions and economic decline. We, at least, will have some time to think, although I do not say that this will be a calm period by any means. The Arab world is divided into two camps, namely between the Arab Spring states and those that survived this, whilst there are other countries that are standing in the midst of this unsure whether they will survive – thanks to luck or outside help – or ultimately fall. Jordan is always the perfect example, and during the era of the Arab Revolt it found itself in precisely this scenario. As for what is happening today, the Kingdom of Jordan’s roots are “Hashemite” and will remain so in the future. As we can see, politics is change, and although historical similarities are always quoted out of context, unfortunately they are the best that a researcher or analyst has at hand. Perhaps, subconsciously, this is all part of an evolutionary rotation or invisible laws governing the [political] process.
If I were in the position of the Syrian rebels and their leadership who are struggling to get rid of the remnants of a false era – which was neither nationalist or Arabist or even Alawite, but rather a criminal gang with delusions of grandeur – I would assign a group to study and review all the mistakes that have been made in Arab Spring states, particularly those committed during the transitional period in order to avoid any possible reoccurrence. This group would certainly discover a number of problematic issues regarding the translational period; most prominently, how can the rebels remain unified, or at least establish a peaceful mechanism for dealing with tasks during this period? This issue will be the most difficult in the case of Syria. This is because in the Egyptian and Tunisian cases, the state’s hierarchy remained unchanged in terms of the judicial, security and military apparatus. Perhaps, these apparatus were weakened to some extent, but they remained present and could be further developed by the incoming regimes. However this will not be applicable in Damascus; what remains in terms of state institutes and apparatus will have been severely damaged, whilst in such cases it is better to start from scratch than to try and fix a broken system.
Secondly, there is the issue of the constitution. As we can see in the case of Egypt, this has divided an entire country, though it did not experience such stark divisions before. Therefore this issue has entrenched such divisions, and Egyptian society has been split into two camps: between those supporting a civil state and those supporting a religious one. However it was soon clear that neither of these camps represent any true vision, but rather a geographic frame, with one camp extending from Cairo to the north, and the other encompassing all of southern Egypt. This is not to mention the socio-economic distinctions that comprise the middle class, on one hand, and the poorer class, on the other.
Thirdly, what should we do with the previous regime? The roots of this question date back to the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime, and this is another holdover from the days of Arabism. Yet the remains in the Arab world have their roots, which if not religious, are certainly ethnic. Autocracy and tyranny cannot be based on oppressive forces alone, yet still they survived for long periods of time during which they established their bases and interests, and these had to be dealt with or even squashed. In Baghdad, they chose the latter [de-Baathification] and this resulted in the practical division of the country, whilst in Egypt they chose the former, and less than two years after the revolution we still hear talk of the “remnants!”
The list of priorities after this, or indeed before this, remains long and complex, including the security file, the economy and managing regionals and international relations. These are all highly pressing issues and will be a severe burden on any new leadership. These issues will not just be complex or time-consuming; they will represent the true test of the new leadership. There is nothing worse for stakeholders than to face an uncertain future full of questions with no answers.