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The competition between Syria and Egypt - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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During the Arab Spring, there was a hierarchy in the media’s focus and concern; this was akin to a progression of events as the world incredulously opened half an eye to what was happening in Tunisia, being unable to believe what was taking place until the final days of the revolution. Following Ben Ali’s departure, focus shifted to Egypt and Tahrir Square where the 25 January revolution was being broadcast live on air, and great emphasis was paid to the strategic weight and position of the country. Following this, the scene moved to Libya, and the long months of struggle which turned into an armed conflict between the revolutionaries and the former regime until the final credits rolled, and the media then split its focus between Syria and Yemen.

The Syrian regime had a good opportunity to find an exit from the crisis with its people, for the regional and international community could not digest the diplomatic and political features of all of these regional developments at one time. The Syrian regime was given one opportunity after another, but it preferred a military solution over a political solution, which only served to inflame the revolution and incite the Syrian revolutionaries to increase the ceiling of their demands week after week, passing the point of no return, and placing the world in a situation where it can no longer silently stand idly by, particularly as the escalating violence has not dampened the determination of the protesters in Syria who have broken through the fear barrier.

The Syrian revolution now occupies the forefront of the scene, particularly following the fall of Gaddafi in Libya, and the successful agreement that took place in Yemen regarding the transition of power. As a result of this, the media and diplomatic attention shifted to the scene in Syria, and this was a state of affairs that was only interrupted by the chaos that erupted in Egypt and the bloody implications and reasons behind this, which – in many respects – remain unknown until today. This served to momentarily shift focus away from what is happening in Syria, however attention has now returned to the Syrian scene once more.

However there is a big difference between the two scenes, namely the Egyptian scene and the Syrian scene. The Syrian crisis has practically entered the phase of internationalization and international polarization following Russia and China’s veto of the draft resolution that was under discussions in the UN Security Council, despite the fact that this resolution was diluted to the point that it did not include any sanctions or a ban of weapon exports or any frank language about surrendering power. Now we have entered the phase of countries withdrawing their ambassadors [from Syria] which is expected to accelerate the fears that the only solution will be along the lines of what happened in Libya, i.e. with arms.

The situation in Syria is clear, it is a popular uprising that had a peaceful nature for long months, demanding freedom and justice from the regime that continues to rule using dated Stalinist methods, losing it the friends and allies of yesterday who cannot afford to appear to stand with a regime that uses tanks and artillery and the pro-regime Shabiha militia against peaceful demonstrators.

Nobody is certain about what will happen if there is regime change [in Syria], perhaps this explains the international and regional hesitancy in dealing with the regime there and the huge number of opportunities that it granted it in the hope that it initiates reform. However the persistence of violence and killing has not left anybody room for manoeuvre, and even the Russians and Chinese will not be able to stand against international resolutions against the regime if it continues the pace of killing in this manner, and if the [diplomatic] paralysis continues in the future, for the scenario that is being reflected by many western statements refers to the possibility of supporting the Syrian opposition with money and arms in order to transform the scene into a real civil war.

As for the situation in Egypt, which seems determined to compete with Syria in terms of news coverage, this is different, albeit also a major cause for concern, particularly due to Egypt’s strategic position and weight, even if the sense of this strategic weight is currently absent.

The concern is due to the chaos that has transformed into a huge fight, where each party is attempting to grab the throat of the other, without showing any willingness for a political settlement to allow Egypt to pass through this transitional phase with minimal losses. The results of this can be seen today; the tanks bombarding Homs and hundreds of Syrian civilians being killed a day, whilst more than 70 Egyptians are killed following a football match in Port Said in less than one hour, without any convincing or conceivable reason for this outbreak of violence, particularly as the home side was winning. Following this, we saw 5 days of protests and violence outside of the Interior Ministry in Cairo, leaving many dead and wounded. We do not know how this crisis will be resolved, for even if there was a conspiracy or negligence; will the solution cure the thirst for retaliation and revenge?

The scene today in Syria has garnered regional and international focus, for it is at the cross-roads between being a peaceful revolution which may gradually transform into an armed revolution, with all the repercussions therein, unless there is a shift from within the regime that facilitates the transition of power.

As for Egypt, it has avoided this fate, thanks to the military institution standing with the demands of the revolution, even if the transitional phase – under the military – which is moving closer to presidential elections following the first freely elected parliament is undergoing chaotic fluctuations, accompanied by needless bloodshed, and collisions between the views and dreams of the new generation and more traditional visions. The hope is that everybody learns to operate within a developed political system, and accepts that there can be no modern society where all the social components fail to agree on a common formula.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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