Lebanon: A Nation Postponed

A man dressed up in a Lebanese flag attends a demonstration against proposed tax increase, in Beirut.

As it is well-known, there is a basic difference between an ‘examination’ and a ‘contest’. In the first, all entrants may pass, not so in the second which must end with ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

In schools and universities, examinations are the norm unless there is a need to fill a limited number of vacancies in highly selective advanced or specialized courses. In such cases, these examinations become contests – or ‘concours’ whereby even those who achieve passing grades would not make it to the final desired number chosen to fill available vacancies.

The occasion for this is what is supposed to be the much hoped for – but what has been an elusive – agreement among Lebanese politicians on a new electoral law. This ‘agreement’ has been farcical, to say the least, especially, that it has emerged while all concerned parties are talking of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’!

Wrangling, maneuvering, impossible demands and counter demands have dominated the Lebanese political scene, becoming like other issues, ranging from energy crises to garbage collection, into ‘red herrings’ designed to occupy people in a country that refuses to acknowledge that it is suffering from a ‘governmental crisis’ if not an ‘existential debacle’. Indeed, what is even more noteworthy is that the Lebanese legislators have continued talking about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ among religious and political blocs openly throughout the media after reaching the ‘agreement’!

Sure enough, for ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ to emerge from adopting a certain electoral law is not an exception in any proper democracy; but the notion of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in Lebanon implies marginalization and exclusion.

However, in a proper democracy, election results are not predestined or guaranteed in advance, and no fair and free elections can be conducted while one of the country’s constituent community is exclusively allowed to carry and use heavy weapons, and in de facto control of its own territories, while still imposing its influence in others’ territories.

Furthermore, sectarian apportionment in the Lebanese political system is enshrined in the law of the land. Religious/Sectarian identity precedes citizenship in Lebanon in most fields related to rights and duties, since the Lebanese Constitution deals with the Lebanese when they become candidates for government posts – be they civilian or military – as ‘members of sectarian flocks’ not equal citizens before the law. Yet, under the silly and barely credible slogan of ‘national unity’, it was deemed necessary to show respect to diversity by equally distributing government posts between Christians and Muslims, regardless of population figures and demographic rates of changes.

Given the above, it would be obvious to talk of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’; first, as long as Lebanon remains a hostage to institutionalized sectarianism; and second, as long as political parties remain blocs with sectarian identities, loyalties, and interests. Such a situation means that any increase in a certain sect’s share would surely be at the expense of another sect, simply because parliamentary seats are limited and earmarked or reserved for particular sects, and so are senior government posts in the judiciary, civil service, diplomatic service, armed forces and security forces.

On the other hand, the immense influence political Lebanese religious leaders wield and practice is not something new, but today, in the era of NGOs and Internet, even religious occasions have become political platforms. In the Christian camp, the regular meetings of Maronite bishops chaired by the Patriarch are almost always concluded by political statements, the same applies to weekly Sunday sermons. While in the Muslim camp it has been the habit of Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to deliver fiery speeches, calls to arms, and engage in political arguments and threats in Shi’ite religious festivals and landmarks; and recently, Ramadan Iftars (breaking the Ramadan fast) on the Sunni side have been turned into opportunities to settle political scores and mobilize political supporters.

Thus, in the final outcome, while most Lebanese claim to be striving for a healthy civil society based on true consensus and accords, the forces which speak on their behalf spare no moment in undermining any move toward that goal. It may not be far off to say that the Lebanese today are more extremist and more sectarian than they were during the 1970s (when the Lebanese War broke out). Indeed, to make matters worse, Lebanese youth who are now calling for lowering the voting age and are active in various NGOs, do not – to some extent – possess a strong political memory, and are unable to comprehend the dynamics that dominate and control the political realities of the country.

Actually, talking of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ from approving the electoral law, in conditions as those prevalent in Lebanon, destroys several notions in one go:

1- It destroys the notion of ‘national consensus’, underlining the fact that it is nothing but a lie exploited by political merchants from all religious communities.

2- It destroys democracy, as it is being deprived of its true spirit while using its ‘ready-to-order’ technicalities into tools in the hands of those possessing real power at the expense of true co-existence.

3- It destroys the notion of a common destiny for the Lebanese through temporary factional and sectarian deals reached in the shadow of the current competition for ethnic, religious and sectarian hegemony between regional powers.

4- It destroys the last opportunity to build a real ‘homeland’ all Lebanese have a vested interest in building together and live in it together, not at the expense of each other.

Not building a ‘homeland’ whose inhabitants are supposed to have learned from the mistakes and tragedies of a devastating war which lasted for 15 years, and insisting on escaping forward, is very damaging.

More so, in a region already paying a heavy price of wars and foreign interventions, in the absence of wise and capable leaders, it would have been better safeguarding Lebanon instead of throwing it in the quagmire of nations’ collapse, hatred, and seeking foreign protection.

Alas, Lebanon’s political class seems to be still living in the past, and for the past.

UK: Two Failed Gambles Within Two Years

UK

Sooner or later stubborn denial will fall when facing reality. Thus, when the British Conservatives lose their parliamentary majority in the snap early general elections they called, even lose safe seats like that of affluent Kensington in central London, they need to acknowledge the hard facts.

The most important of these facts is that twice within two years a Conservative British prime minister gambled on the mood of the electorate, only for the gamble to backfire and throw the country in a government crisis.

Last year, British voters opted to leave the European Union in an unnecessary referendum. Panic-stricken by the rising popularity of the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and hoping to silence once and forever anti-EU wing within his party, former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron promised to conduct a referendum on leaving or ‘exiting’ Europe.. a.k.a. Brexit!

However, Cameron’s gamble spectacularly, and unexpectedly failed, as a majority voted to leave, made up of Leftist ‘protectionists’ and ‘neo fascists’ and Rightist ‘isolationists’ and ‘old fascists’.

In the light of this result, Cameron resigned, and was succeeded as prime minister by then Home Secretary Theresa May. But no sooner had May taken office and announced her readiness to start the Brexit negotiations, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) – who had just narrowly lost a referendum on Independent Scotland – rose against May, and declared that they had every right to have a second referendum on Independence, since the majority in Scotland voted in favour of remaining in the EU.

In the meantime, almost all major British political parties were going through a period of upheavals, and attempting to redefine their priorities and highlight their distinguishing stances.

The Conservatives were becoming more clearly divided between the skeptics and the hard-core ‘Brexiteers’; and while there was a broad in with the hope of papering over party divisions, many truly believed the internal dispute over Europe within the Party would never end with a referendum.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the scene inside Labour, the main opposition party, was looking even more exciting. The hawkish Left was now imposing its hegemony at the expense of moderates ever doubtful of the ability of the Leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn to lead Labour back to power. Like the Conservatives, Labour has been deeply divided over Europe too; and further divisions have been emerging between youth and pensioners, educated groups and blue-collar workers, traditional working class strongholds in northern England and the Welsh valleys … and the new Labour urban strongholds in southern England.

The scene within the centrist Liberal Democrats may be less dramatic than its two larger competitors, but still LibDem activists were hopeful that their new leader Tim Farron would turn the page of their disastrous 2015 electoral defeat, and benefit from Labour slide further to the left by attracting moderate and ‘liberal’ Labour supporters.

Last but not least, across the English-Scottish borders, the SNP was busy putting pressure to bear for a second Independence referendum under the leadership of the young dynamic Nicola Sturgeon, who took over from her former boss Alex Salmond, who had resigned the SNP leadership after losing the first Independence referendum.

Outside the UK, the overall political scene last year was no less exciting.

USA witnessed two astonishing phenomena during the presidential campaign: the rise of right-wing and left-wing anti-globalization political populism, and weakness of the political ‘establishment’ which led to its failure in confronting the rise of populism.

Indeed, Donald Trump not only managed to secure the nomination of the Republican Party against the ‘establishment’ candidates, but later won the presidency upon defeating the Democratic Party’s candidate Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State.

The Democratic Party, in turn, witnessed how Senator Bernie Sanders, a Leftist Jewish politician in his 70s who was not even a party member, succeeded in gaining around %40 of the votes during the Party’s primaries, thanks to Leftist populist slogans that energized the younger generations and secured their backing.

A similar scenario was repeated in France, where the presidential candidate of the two ‘establishment’ parties of the Right (the Republicans / Gaulists) and Left (the Socialists) failed to reach the final election round, decisively won by a youthful Emmanuel Macron (39 years old), who had just left government of the Socialist President Francois Holland, his mentor.

Macron has built his election machine through his “On the March” movement, and is through the momentum of his movement currently redefining French politics.

All the above-mentioned developments seem to have been missed by Theresa May when she gambled on snap elections only one year into her first term in office. Her aim was to have a fresh personal mandate that would strengthen her hand nationally and in the Brexit negotiations, as well as enhance her own leadership of the Conservative Party. However, on Thursday June 8th her gamble failed miserably, ushering a most probable political demise.

The Conservatives have lost their absolute majority, and are now seeking the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, the ultra-Right Protestant party in Northern Ireland, for her temporary ‘minority government’ until the dust settle and a new Conservative leader takes over.

As for Labour, although it lost it did manage to widen its appeal and add to its parliamentary seat, doing very well in Southern England and Wales; which has enhanced Corbyn reputation and his Leftist calls that attracted the youth, mobilized them, and brought them in droves to the ballots.

On the other hand, as the Liberal Democrats improved their performance compared to 2015, the biggest losers – next to the Conservatives – were the SNP and UKIP.

The SNP lost more than one third of its seats (dropping from 56 to 35 seats) including that of its former leader Alex Salmond, and had its hope of a second Independence referendum dashed after its popular percentage of votes plummeted to less than % 36.9.

While UKIP, originally a single issue party, paid a heavy price for the fulfillment of its objective of leaving Europe. It failed to win a single seat, as a result of former voters returning to their original parties, mainly, the Conservatives; and almost immediately its leader Paul Nuttall resigned before any political postmortem.

One last thought.

The UK is really changing. It is changing at a faster pace even that its politicians think; which may go a long way to explain why their failed gambles and adventures.

Another Test for British Democracy

In a small street corner restaurant situated between Asharq Al-Awsat’s old office building and The British Museum in central London, I met her. She is a waitress who is infatuated with national politics.

This single mother of Irish descent rarely misses a demonstration called for by the Labour Party or Leftist groups, and whenever possible, she would take her little daughter with her.

It is a weird sort of mixture. In the heart of the British capital, here we are at a French restaurant owned by an anti-Khomeini Iranian exile, frequented by Arab expats and looked after by a lovely Irish waitress eager to talk about politics; more so when she knew that I and most of my guests were journalists and writers.

Her hero was Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the British Labour Party, who during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s was one of the most vociferous young politicians against Margaret Thatcher’s policies, including her tough stances against Irish Republicanism. In fact many conservative politicians and media people even accused him of being a sympathizer of Sinn Fein and its military wing, the IRA.

In addition to the Irish ‘emotional link’, my dear waitress loved Corbyn because to her, he was a ‘true Leftist’ (his parents were peace activists who met during the Spanish Civil War), who portrays himself as the ‘defender of the underdog and downtrodden’ everywhere in the world; even those confronting British troops.

We met after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September 2015 thanks to the huge support of local party activists as well as the bloc votes of the trade unions.

She was ecstatic, as if living a dream she doesn’t want to end. For her, what happened was nothing short of a timely ‘revolution’, although for the majority of the Labour members of parliament it was an unwelcome shock. For most of these MPs Corbyn was simply too leftwing and radical to lead the party back to power.

Furthermore, many other moderate and pragmatic Labour figures have always believed that winning elections is incumbent on both the major parties, the Conservatives to the Right and Labour to the Left, to win the larger chunk of center ground and secure the votes of uncommitted – or ‘floating’ – voters.

They usually justify this position by pointing out to the fact that Labour suffered its worst election defeats in 1983 and 1987 when it was led by the radical Left, and likewise the extreme Right led the Conservative Party to its worst defeats in 1997 and 2001.

Based on this logic, most of Labour MPs voted against Corbyn during the leadership election campaign; but their opposition meant little against local party activists – mostly from the younger generation – and trade union bosses.

Thus, the Left regained Labour’s leadership for the first time since one of their former ‘stars’ Neil Kinnock (party leader between 1983 and 1992) led the ‘war’ against the radical ‘Militant Tendency’ wing primarily made up of Marxists and Trotskyists; bringing Labour back to the political pragmatism of the mainstream.

After Kinnock’s Labour loss to John Major’s Conservatives in 1992, Kinnock resigned and handed over the reins to the ‘moderate’ John Smith, but only after clearing the deck for him, spared him the obstructions of radicals and extremists.

However, Smith (55 years old) died suddenly in 1992, and was succeeded by Tony Blair, another ‘moderate’. Blair managed not only to lead Labour back to power in 1997, but also to win three consecutive general elections.

My pro-Corbyn waitress remembers nothing of the 1983 defeat, although the current Labour surely does.
All she and her generation are aware of is that Blair – in her words –‘was an opportunist right-winger who masqueraded as Labour’ and that he ‘betrayed the working class’ then became a ‘poodle for George W Bush’ and a henchmen in his foreign wars and policies.

Given my ‘experience’ gained from being a living witness to that period, I told her “Well, the problem with Mr Corbyn – whom I know and used to like a lot – is that he cannot win!”, but immediately she replied “How do you know? He is very popular… just look at how many new members are joining the Party now!”.
In a vain attempt to tell her that “those joining Labour would have voted Labour anyway. They do not represent any added value; but the opposite is true, as many centrist voters would flock to the Conservatives”. But she won’t agree. “No, many never bothered to vote in the past because they felt there was no difference between Blair and the Conservatives. Today, however, we see a zeal that wasn’t there before… people like me are eager for change!”.

I must confess, I didn’t take what the lady said seriously; but many momentous development took place since, that made doubt my understanding of Western democracy, and politics in general.

Since the British voted to leave the EU (Brexit), and Trump’s earthquake in the USA, and later the failure of the two mainstream Right candidates (Gaullist Republicans’ Francois Fillon) and Left (Socialists’ Benoit Hamon) in France’s presidential elections, it is now obvious that there is an emerging political current that is going further than mere ‘protest’. It is really going for ‘change’.
We are witnessing a seismic shift against formerly accepted concepts and practices. The old power elites have lost their immunity. Globalized capitalism is creating its own enemies.

Free democratic elections, long viewed as weapon to insure stability and defend responsible and broadly-based consensus, are now being used by the exclusionist Rightists and formerly marginalized Leftists as a weapon against democratic institutions.

So regardless what the British voters decide on June 8, one has to accept that we are going through real change the repercussions of which may continue for years to come. Brexit, Trump’s and Bernie Sanders ascendency in the USA, and Emmanuel Macron’s and Marine Le Pen’s popularity in France, are not isolated phenomena any more.

Waiting for what happens come next Thursday, it may be wise to remember two famous quotes attributed to former British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The first is “Oppositions do not win elections, governments lose them!”; and the second is “One week is a long time in Politics!”.

Foreign Intervention and the UK General Elections

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, speaks at a campaign event in Reading

The UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s comments on the Manchester suicide bombing, suggesting that “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home,” provoked a storm of criticism.

What is worth mentioning is that the terrorist atrocity committed by Libyan-born, British Salman Abedi was linked to the American air force bombardment of Syria. Interesting, indeed, that it is specifically linked to the American – as well as British, under the umbrella of ‘anti-ISIS coalition’ – attacks targeting ISIS-held territories inside Syria.

This may call the attention of serious analysts to several issues, although people like Abedi – who murdered 22 innocent people and injured many others while attending a concert – are nothing but brainwashed ‘killing machines’.

One issue is surely related to the aforementioned ‘justifications’ of the atrocity. The attacks of US-led ‘coalition’ started quite late in the Syrian War. Actually, they started many years after the Assad regime’s attacks on civilians, then direct involvement of Iran’s sectarian militia backing the regime, and later Russia’s joining the war directly against the Syrian people. It is a well-known fact that the Russian air force has played a decisive part during the last three years in turning the tide of the war in Assad’s favor. It has provided it with the much-needed air cover to systematically destroy the cities and carry out ‘sectarian cleansing’ and population exchange. On the contrary, during Barack Obama’s presidency, Washington – so keen to befriend Iran – refused to intervene militarily in Syria; subsequently, encouraging the Damascus regime and Iranian leaders to escalate the war using all kinds of weapons, including chemical weapons!

Another issue regards the concept of ‘intervention’. In general, this term on its own does not reflect a comprehensive political vision. It is impossible to morally justify ‘intervention’ in a stable country governed by broadly-based political, social and institutional consensus; but, it is both morally and politically right to prevent the escalation of a war whereby a dictatorial leadership kills its own people as we have been witnessing in Syria and Yemen.

Moreover, it is wrong to intervene with the intention of ‘regime change’ without having a plan for the day after, and a proper viable and legitimate alternative. When the 2003 Iraq War was met with wide Arab and international opposition, those opposing the War did not do so because they were great admirers of Saddam Hussein and his regime, but because Washington and London had no plan to fill the power vacuum and save the post-Saddam Iraq chaos.

Eventually, as we know now, Iraq was handed to Iran and its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) on a platter.

Still, the most preposterous understanding of ‘intervention’ must be reserved to Obama’s handling of Syria. Here, both the US president and his associates kept on justifying their refusal to defend the Syrian people and deter its murderers by pathetically repeating the claim that the “intervention in Iraq made the situation worse!” It is particularly this shameful and destructive inaction that created ISIS phenomenon as a global problem.

Today, in the UK, the Labour leader Corbyn is following the footsteps of Barack Obama. Last week, Corbyn made the connection between wars UK supported or fought in other countries and terrorism on British soil. The Labour leader, however, does not seem to be interested in the details of these wars, who caused them, are benefitting from them, or the realities they seek to impose. Mr. Corbyn, who rightly opposed the 2003 Iraq War, today ignores the fact that that war brought about an explosive regional reality that all those who opposed the war must realize. They need to understand how Iranian extremism has provoked an opposite, extremist reaction, and that Tehran rulers are now exploiting this reaction in order to cut deals and make international alliances that would nurture it for years and decades to come.

The third issue, linked to the above, is that the current Labour leadership has been too consistently loyal to its opposition to foreign adventures. It is ‘principled’, and like some Labour leadership before it, has been too dogmatic and simplistic in arguing international affairs, as well as being sometimes ‘childishly’ anti-Washington. Something that makes it fall an easy prey to great slogans of ‘progress’ and ‘liberation’ uttered by fake nationalists and their mouthpieces. Indeed, the Labour ‘Left’ has always been idealistic, and quite often naïve.

During the thick of the Cold War, the Labour Left won control of the party’s leadership with clear-cut radical leftist political positions bearing all the fingerprints of the UND (Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament) – of which the new leader Michael Foot was an active member – as well as a radical economic agenda. The Left’s ascendancy led the leaders of centrist Labour Right to break away with their supporters and found the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. This party merged later with the Liberal Party to form the current Liberal Democratic Party.

In 1983, as the leftist Labour leadership announced its radical electoral manifesto, the late Labour wise man Gerald Kaufman described it as “the longest suicide note in history”. He was absolutely right; as Labour was trounced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, gaining just above % 27.5 of the votes and paving the way for uninterrupted Conservative rule until 1997.

In the early 80s, Corbyn and some of his associates were young firebrands and ‘spiritual’ sons and daughters of Michael Foot and his fellow Leftist luminary Tony Benn. However, while many of those matured and moderated their outlooks, including Benn’s son Hilary Benn – a former cabinet minister – Mr. Corbyn remained an unrepentant radical.
Today, he practically supports Iran and Assad since he believes they are confronting America’s influence and conspiracies. This is why he promised a change in London’s foreign policy if Labour wins on June 8th.

Finally, the fourth issue regards an anxious period Western societies are going through. Many ‘givens’ and ‘constants’ have fallen; causing astounding electoral surprises. Thus, it would be ironic if the problems of the Middle East and Muslim world would shape the future of cultural co-existence and democracy in the West.

Iran: The Regime’s Nature and Its Calculations

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gestures during a news conference in Tehran

It was interesting that the arrival of the US president Donald Trump in Riyadh in his first foreign visit since taking office should coincide with the election of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani for a second term.

Avoiding the temptation of ‘conspiracy theory’, I reckon it was very much in the interest of the Iranian regime that Rouhani easily defeated his opponent Ebrahim Raisi who is thought of as the future ‘supreme guide’, given the change of leadership in Washington. Such a result reflects a wise and tactful approach by the ‘movers and shakers’ in Tehran to internal as well as foreign policies.

Those ‘movers and shakers’ may be pretty extremist anti-Arab and anti-West, but it doesn’t follow that they are stupid. Actually, the opposite is true; as there are many smart and cultured individuals in the Iranian regime who are skillful political and tactical operators and understand the limits of adventures and open hostilities, thus, never hesitate to bend before the storm.

Now that Barack Obama has left office carrying with him his vision for the Middle East, a Republican administration is in charge. It is less convinced of Tehran’s leaders’ ‘moderation’, and more doubtful that their policies of sectarian incitement, military intervention, and direct hegemony adopted towards the Arab world are the best way to fight terrorism.

Hence, with the apparent end of the American-Iranian honeymoon, beginning with Syria, Tehran’s political ‘kitchen’ felt in need to balance out the two Iranian power blocs, although they are nothing but the two sides of one coin. With this in mind, the final six presidential candidates were approved, while others were disqualified including Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the former two-term president!

Of course, the ‘supreme guide’ remains the real ruler of Iran, regardless of the attempts of its state PR machine to promote a mirage of democracy. Indeed, the unrivalled position of the ‘supreme guide’ is a fact even the much trumpeted ‘reformists’ Rouhani and his vice president Mohsen Jahangiri by the Iranian people during the last four years of his presidency, he would never had the courage to raise the issues of corruption, unemployment, social problems, and claim to the champion of the poor, as he did during the televised debates. The fact is that Rouhani’s tough talk was directed at the de facto presidential candidates of the IRGC, which thanks to its institutions, interests, and money, network the real powerbase of Iran’s security system and its major strike force.

This actually means that the election campaign, just like ‘Iranian democracy’ itself, is flawed and self-contradictory; since the president does not rule … and the real ruler is neither the president nor a candidate to be chosen through elections.

Despite this fact one has to accept that Iran has gained in political savviness since 1979 with the emergence of ‘pragmatists’ like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, and later Hassan Rouhani, who have mastered the policy of taking a few steps forward and one step backward. And although ‘conservative’ hawks remain the real mainstay of the regime and the honest reflection of its true nature, those infrequently described as ‘reformists’ and ‘moderates’ are much closer to the pulse of people, millions of whom do not agree with the regime’s political priorities.

Here it is worth recalling how the ‘Revolution devoured its children’. Hundreds, indeed, thousands of the Iranian revolution were liquidated. Former foreign minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was executed after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Government and kill Ayatollah Khomeini; Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president after the 1979 revolution, had to flee the country after being impeached and is now living in exile in France. Even senior clerics, such as Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari and Grand Ayatollah Hussein Mutazeri, suffered for their opposition. And last but not least, both a former prime minister, Mir Hussein Mousavi, and a former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi, have been placed under house arrest since the 2009 pro-democracy ‘Green Path of Hope Movement’.

The reality is that most Iranian voters do not remember – and do not care about – the old legacy of hate against the Pahlavi royal family, and the abuses of the old royalist SAVAK secret police; as around %70 of Iranians are under-30 years old. Thus, they are not hostages to memories but are rather dreamers for a better future, and deservedly so. They have every right to dream of steady jobs, better education, refining their oil more efficiently, and sure enough, live in peace with their compatriots and neighbors instead of demonizing and fighting them.

Moreover, it is ironic that against the logic of accountability in proper democracies, incumbent president Rouhani was re-elected by ‘protest votes’ against the real rulers. Most of the votes cast in Rouhani’s favor were not ‘his’ but ‘against’ his adversaries, i.e. the ‘supreme guide’ and the IRGC and their authority, even though he is a product of this authority.

What will happen next?

The first question must deal with Rouhani’s policies during his second term, and the second would be about the future of his challenger Raisi.

The new Middle East perhaps best portrayed by Trump’s pictures in Riyadh should send a clear message to Rouhani. It may be beneficial for him if follows Washington’s new approaches in the Arab ‘arenas’ that Tehran managed to penetrate during Obama’s presidency. So far one of Washington top goals is undoing the Russo-Iranian alliance with all its consequences in the Region.

As for Raisi, one wonders if his chances of becoming ‘supreme guide’ can survive his crushing defeat. For even in a lame democracy, like Iran’s, it may prove difficult for someone so strongly rejected by people, in what has been described as fair and clean election, to assume absolute power like that of the ‘supreme guide’!

A Historic Chance to Save what Could be Saved

By the end of Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990), the Lebanese discovered a truth that a pre-Islamic young and brilliant poet named Tarafa Ibn Al-‘Abd had touched on more than 1,400 years ago when he said: Being maltreated by close relatives is more painful than being hit with a sword!

The Lebanese those days, each in his/her religiously homogeneous ‘canton’ run by a single status quo authority, realized how difficult it was to co-exist with armed bullies from the same community; sometimes even from the same clan. It felt much more painful than being maltreated by others.

During that period, state institutions had all but collapsed. In many areas road blocks were erected to protect dividing ceasefire lines and fiefdoms, manned by armed young men (and sometimes women) under various religious and sectarian justifications. As time passed by, and militiamen began to enjoy more sway than ordinary citizens, abuse of excess power emerged, and with it public resentment as well as political and personal feuds within the very same religious/sectarian camp.

This was the case with almost every Lebanese region or area. It continues today in the shadow of a fully-fledged armed sectarian hegemony, next to which the whole Lebanese political scene looks like a stage decoration, nothing else.

The same is true in other Arab entities, such as Iraq and Syria, both of which are currently going through what Lebanon has. In both countries, abuse and maltreatment have been the result of fellow citizens or communities enjoying excessive power, thus imposing their hegemony over the rest of the population. Certainly, this phenomenon will have dire consequences unless wisely dealt with in the right way and the right time, with full awareness of how important it is to contain ills of incitement, dictatorship, and marginalizing others.

Given the above, there are two inter-connected elements, both our Arab region and the Muslim world, need to address wisely and decisively when necessary: The first is terrorism of every religious, sectarian or ethnic identity. The second is how majorities treat minorities, in order to ensure that injustice does not lead to morally or humanely justifying any action detrimental to all.

Arab and Muslim identities are those of the ethnic and religious majority in the ‘Arab world’, extending from Oman in the east to Morocco and Mauritania in the west. This is a fact. However it does not tell the whole story, as there are many details worth keeping in mind. It is not acceptable any more that our youth grow up unaware of the benefit of ‘unity in diversity’, and the common interest in peaceful co-existence. In this day and age of high tech interaction and easy travel, cultural, educational and geographic borders have become almost non-existent. Thus, it would be suicidal for Arabs and Muslims to ignore what is taking place around them. They, simply, do not live in another planet!

A few days from now, Riyadh will host an unprecedented Arab-Islamic-American summit that is expected to highlight the importance of ending the fruitless dialogues between the Arabs and the West, Islam and the West, and between some Muslims and some Arabs, too.

The November victory of the current American leadership, whose ultimate political decisions are of institutional rather than personal nature, has uncovered a real problem in how American society views Islam. On the other hand, terrorist crimes committed by Arabs and Muslims in Europe, during the last few years, have also highlighted a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship between them and their host nations.

Furthermore, Donald Trump’s victory was achieved against the emergence of wrong theory inside the US, more so during Barack Obama’s two terms in office, that there is a ‘good Islam’ with which one can do business with and a ‘bad Islam’ that is extremist by nature, and thus, incorrigible.

This wrong theory has produced the JCPOA with Iran, and prevented any American action that could have stopped the Arab Region’s slide toward extremism as a reaction to Iran campaign for hegemony. Iran’s campaign has fueled civil strife in Iraq, Syria and Yemen under the pretexts of resisting Israeli occupation, and bringing down USA’s regional influence; and yet former President Obama turned a blind eye and decided to do nothing about it. Obama’s justification was twofold: One, that Iran’s Islam was of the good ‘type’; two, that its rhetoric as radical as it may sound was in fact ‘reserved for local consumption, as it had no intentions of threatening Israeli and US interests.

In the meantime, those conspiring against the future of the Middle East have been quite happy to see extremism begetting counter extremism that justifies fear, which in turn justifies seeking foreign intervention, en route to making partition an acceptable case for self-defense, indeed, self-preservation.

Today this is exactly the background of what is unfolding in Syria and Iraq, where everybody maybe a beneficiary from the future partition map except the Syrians and Iraqis themselves. Ordinary Syrians and Iraqis will not be happy to be forced out of their ancestral homes. There is no interest for them in population exchange carried out for sectarian reasons in the aftermath of mass destruction of cities and countryside, and sowing the seeds of hatred and blood feuds.

Knowingly, or unknowingly, extremists and brain-washed henchmen went along with the tit-for-tat factional violence; and gradually, those brandishing arms and trading in slogans dominated the political scene, at the expense of the sincere and honest fighters for peaceful change, justice and human rights.

France at a Crossroads

What Europe are we expected to wake up to? What political culture are we going to live under? Would there still be a place for descendants of immigrants in the continent where the Crusades were launched and two world wars were started, when its bigots begin rejecting even fellow white Christian Europeans?

I reckon we need realistic–not falsely reassuring– answers.

Today French voters are voting in more than just another presidential election. They are making a choice between two distinct cultural identities; either they chose sliding towards a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ imbued with hatred, animosities and selfishness the consequences of which would go further than Europe, or opt for an ‘institutional government’ and the logic of dialogue and mutual understanding inside and outside France.

Thus, no choice has ever been starker or more clear-cut, and no bet has ever been higher.

Personally, I do understand why many French, indeed, many Europeans and Westerners – including Americans, Canadians and Australians – are unhappy about the current state of affairs.

I realize there is a demographic time-bomb. The ‘West’, as symbolized by white Christian Europeans and their descendants, no longer dominates global affairs, nor does its population size work in its favor. Even economically, the ‘west’ does not have a monopoly on decision-making. It does not fully dominate the international markets anymore.

All this means that ‘globalization’ poses a threat to a ‘West’ whose populations are worried about being diluted in their own countries, and fear what might the future hold.

With this fear, as proven by statistics, even polite diplomatic pronouncements and sincere calls for co-existence may prove futile; more so, when anti-democratic tendencies begin to take root in what were ‘cradles of Western democracy’. Then, add to the above the collapse of the ‘classic’ national and ideological identities against a background of rising ‘religious’ revival brought back to life by the criminal actions of zealots raising religious banners and using religion as a justification for murder and terrorism.

Blue-collar French men and women workers, with limited educational and hi tech qualifications, moved a few decades ago from voting for the Left, led by the French Communist Party – that used to be the second largest in western Europe after its Italian counterpart – to the extreme Right groups, such as the National Front.

The reason for this radical shift is simple. The unskilled worker was competing in the job market with a poorer immigrant worker willing to earn an even lower wage. Hence, all what this French worker had heard from the venerable ‘comrades’ about ‘class struggle’, ‘capitalist greed’ and ‘fat cats and bosses exploitation of their workers’ disintegrated when his/her bosses confronted him/her with the argument that they were not their enemy. There real enemy was the ‘foreign immigrant’ worker who was willing to work more for less.

This ‘logic’ became acceptable in France, specifically, in the industrial and mining ‘departments’ of the north near the Belgian borders and in the areas of high concentration of North African immigrants in the cities of the Mediterranean south.

It even went beyond the traditional French Left voter. In Britain too, traditional bastions for the Labour Party in the industrial cities of northern England and former mining valleys of Wales voted in favor of “Brexit”, i.e. leaving the EU. The position of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a radical Leftist, was particularly dubious. The day after the night that was, the British woke up to a strange reality: The extreme Right and extreme Left voting for the same cause!

As far as the Labour Left is concerned, this largely happened as a rejection of European integration that would allow cheaper East European labor force from competing in the local job market. However, for the extreme Right, which hid itself well under the cloak of the Conservative Party, the “Brexit” referendum was its ideal platform to show its true colors under the banner of UKIP (The United Kingdom Independent Party).

It is worth mentioning here that the sudden surge of support for this isolationist Anti-Europe party caused the then moderate Conservative Prime minister David Cameron to panic and call for the unnecessary referendum in the first place. Subsequently though, after the referendum, the true size of UKIP was laid bare for all to see, as it suffered a wipe out in the recent local elections; proving it was always a protest single-issue platform, which has now lost its raison d’etre, and hence, all isolationist Rightists and xenophobes returned home to the Conservative Party.

Also in the US, the major destination for immigration in the West, the “Mother of Free Enterprise”, and the enemy of protectionism and ideological beacon for competitiveness, we saw a Rightist billionaire defending workers’ rights by calling to stop “exporting American jobs”, build a wall on the border with Mexico, and tighten immigration procedures in order to ‘protect’ America against cheap foreign labor and terrorists!

As was the case with “Brexit”, minus the immigration issue, Donald Trump’s calls were in a sense similar to those of Democratic Leftist presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Both were actually pushing their supporters to vote against ‘The Establishment’, its ethos and symbols such as pragmatic moderation, intersection of interests, broadly based cross-party deals.

In all three major western countries, America, Britain and France, which rebuilt the post WW2 ‘world order’, we notice that “The Establishment’ has suffered painful defeats, and that ‘globalization’ has lost a strategic battle, against a background of retreating moderation and rising isolationism and extremism.

The capitalist system, however, cannot comfortably sustain such a status quo, i.e. powers dominated by nationalist isolationists. War is usually the natural outcome, but in this day and age wars are pretty costly and devastating.

Anti-Western powers, led by Russia under its current leadership, know this fact; and this is why the Kremlin has been virtually fuelling civil wars within the three countries and perhaps others. Circles close to Russian leadership did not hide Moscow’s preference of a Marine Le Pen presidency in France. It also openly supported “Brexit”, and Trump’s electoral position against NATO.

Thus, the choice before the French in the decisive election day is either choose war, or a world based on mutual understanding, tolerance, and willingness to deal together with the challenges confronting humanity as a whole.

It is truly a crossroads.

Globalization of Terrorism in the Service of Bigotry

Police officers stand next to terraced housing in Harlesden Road, north London

In real democracies elections are a ‘means’ not an ‘end’. This is not the case with other types of democracy; such as the democracies of cheap slogans, and %90 victories which we have experienced in our countries, either to imitate others or to ingratiate ourselves to them in order to escape their pressure or anger.

This year, political observers have been awaiting three major scheduled elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, following the Brexit referendum in the UK and the US presidential elections. However, certain calculations have prompted British Prime Minister Theresa May to call for a snap early election. As if the Brexit ‘earthquake’ has not been enough, and the Scottish nationalists’ drive for independence is not gathering added momentum, voters in the UK will find themselves on 8 June facing a second general election in less than one year and one month after the last one.

Two days before the first round of France’s presidential elections, in the London apartment of an anglophile friend, there was a lively discussion about how the French and British deal with their respective democratic systems. During that discussion, we touched on two interconnected aspects: The difference in ‘party culture and traditions’, and the difference in ‘personal and social moods’ between the French and British (primarily, English) voters.

The French who vote today for their new president live a political culture different from that of their neighbors across the English Channel. Behind this fact are several factors, including:

1- The Geo-Environmental factor, as France is very much a part of the European mainland; and thus has witnessed since the dawn of history endless conquests, waves of immigration and settlement, and centuries of multi-ethnic interaction that have left a huge cumulative imprint on the French identity. Across the Channel, the British are ‘islanders’, which is a reality not only do they profess, but also stress to justify their tendency for exclusivity and exception. Still, while one must not dismiss the multi-ethnic side in the identity of the British, recalling the waves of conquests which brought the Celts, Romans, Angles and Saxons, Juts, Normans and others to Great Britain, the centuries’ old semi-isolation of the island has ensured a semblance of homogeneity in its central areas (as the Celts moved to the peripheries in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall). This is not exactly true for France.

2- The factor of political change. Here, while France and the UK have both gone through civil wars and dynastic changes, the French have been more at home with ‘revolution’, as compared with ‘evolution’ – or gradual change – in the UK. In the latter, this has been the pattern since Magna Carta, and later ‘The Restoration’ (of monarchic rule after the Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth period following the parliamentarians’ rebellion against king Charles I). Hence, if ‘The French Revolution’ helped shape the political identity of France, and the storming of the Bastille became its national day it celebrates annually, the British position vis-à-vis rebellions or revolution is totally different. In fact, the British political establishment has been averse to any kind of armed struggle against the state as sedition, and in today’s jargon an act of terrorism. This is why London treated not the Irish Republican Army members, but also George Washington and the Mahatma Gandhi as “terrorists”.

3- The organizational/institutional factor. This applies when we see that the roles played by historic ‘larger than life’ individuals (such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles De Gaulle, and Francois Mitterrand) in France were much greater than those of political parties even during democratic rule. In the UK the opposite is true, as British political parties have always been ‘larger’ than the aura of their most successful leaders. One proof is that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, the two longest serving Conservative and Labour prime ministers in the last 100 years, were brought down by their own parties, not defeated by the opposition.

During that evening at my anglophile friend’s apartment, those present talked about the ‘moodiness’ of the French voters as opposed to the consistency, even predictability, of their British counterparts.

Among the things said was that Theresa May would not have called for snap general elections 3 years before the life of the current Parliamentary term had she was not sure she would win big; something which would ensure her a lager majority, and give her the freedom to finalize the UK’s exit from Europe. Those holding this view noted that she must have calculated – based on opinion polls – that the Labour opposition was in a pretty bad shape under its current radical leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, particularly, since Corbyn has lost Labour the support of the uncommitted ‘floating’ voters, against the background of a divided opposition parties, and increasing threat of secessionist nationalists, namely in Scotland.

Despite the fact that opinion polls went badly wrong twice last year, with ‘Brexit’ and US presidential elections, the clear cut single-constituency party-based British general elections are usually easier to predict than the result of a single-issue referendum that divided both Conservatives and Labour down the middle.

In France, it has been more difficult to predict the outcome. What is at stake is not just how to satisfy the voters of a country where there are 264 types of cheese – as De Gaulle famously said –, but also the broad spectrum of candidates from the extreme right to the extreme Left, while the traditional ‘establishment’ candidates trailing badly. The latest polls gave both the Republican Gaullist candidate and the Socialist candidates less support than the extreme Right’s Marine Le Pen and the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, and sometimes even the extreme Left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon. Then, as if all this was not enough, the Muslim identity of the ‘Champs Elysees Terrorist’ could only boost the chances of Le Pen, as well as the Republican Francois Fillon, who has shared a lot of her stances on Muslims and immigrants during the last months.

A final thought. British democratic traditions have proven to be capable of containing extremism. While in France, is a second and decisive round of voting enough to prevent ‘globalized terrorism’ from making fear-nurtured isolationism and bigotry… the major voter?

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.

Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.

Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.

In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.

The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.

For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?

Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?

The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.

From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.

The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.

Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.

A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.

However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.

In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.

It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.

However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.

The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon.

This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.

Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Let’s Hope it is the Beginning of the End

Let us forget about fake ‘nationalist’ condemnation, and shedding crocodile tears on doubtful ‘sovereignty’, since Syria became nothing but a ‘mailbox’ for exchanging regional international political messages. Let us also look deeper into a situation whereby human lives have become irrelevant against a crescendo of chatter about false ‘Rejectionism’ and folkloric ‘Arabism’.

Given all the above, it has to be said that the main culprit responsible for violating Syria’s sovereignty is he who has never cherished it, and never cared about the lives and dignity of Syrian citizens.

Personally, I am not one who supports foreign intervention; and most certainly, do not gloat about our misfortunes and defeats. I do not and would not call on foreign powers to occupy our lands, and open for them the gates of what are supposed to be ‘homelands’ … not detentions centers where people are abused and humiliated.

In fact, it pains me deeply to see foreign military aircraft ‘touring’ the skies of Arab countries taken away from their people not by an old enemy (that we have been verbally attacking for 70 years), but by some of their own. It pains me even more to see the inability of those to confront the real enemy, while – thanks to habit and ‘inheritance’ – they have mastered the skill of confronting their co-citizens when they seek the most basic human rights.

After the US ‘Tomahawk’ strikes against the Sh’ayrat Air Base (in Homs Province), which was for several years a source of death and misery to Syria’s cities and countryside, I heard and read about ‘angry’ reactions from fellow Arabs who do not seem to refuse murder as a means of dialogue with protesters. What is worse was that they considered the American strikes as:

1- A violation of Syria’s ‘sovereignty’, as if Syria is nothing but a regime that is until this very moment bargaining with foreign powers on how to partition it along religious, sectarian and ethnic lines; and engages in systematic population exchange under international auspices.

2- A “punishment” to the regime “for opposing Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine”, as Dr. Buthaina Sha’ban ‘brilliantly’ reminded us.

However, the fact is that there has been a sinister relationship of reciprocated services between the Bashar Al-Assad regime and its supporters – namely, Iran – on one side, and ISIS and its ilk on the other. The latter never really believed in the Syrian popular uprising, never fought for it, but rather fought against it and worked hard to destroy it from within whenever possible.

This picture was always clear to the US and Western powers. Washington in particular, knew quite a lot about the Syrian situation during Barack Obama’s presidency; but unfortunately Obama’s priorities were somewhere else. The JCPOA (i.e. the nuclear agreement) with Iran was Washington’s main goal; and to insure its implementation, Obama and his staff were happy to sacrifice the Syrian people as well as America’s traditional Middle East allies and friends in order to keep Tehran happy, and allow it to spread its sway from the Zagros Mountains to the Levant coast, and from the Arabia Gulf to Bab Al-Mandeb strait.

For six years since the start of the Syrian uprising, and three years after discovering the reality of Obama’s position, The Damascus regime and its backers in Tehran and Moscow had received all the reassurances they needed to escalate their war. They benefited from the following positions adopted by Washington:

1- Continuous refusal of enforcing ‘safe havens’ and ‘no-fly zones’ intended to deter the regime and protect the refugees and displaced; while Russia and China – through their ‘vetoes’ – have prevented the international community from stopping the regime’s carnage.

2- Stubborn rejection – despite pleas to the contrary – to provide the Syrian Opposition with suitable quality weapons needed to confront and neutralize the regime’s arsenal, replenished by Moscow via a permanent ‘air bridge’.

3- Failure to seriously check against the flagrant military activities of pro-Iran sectarian militias, which have inflamed sectarian polarization, nurtured frustration and despair, and eventually extremism in Syria.

4- Failure to back the trend of moderation and openness within the Syrian Opposition, given its aforementioned stances, and then claiming that the opposition was ‘incapable’ of confronting the regime. It then gave its support to secessionist (Kurdish) militias not only threatening Syria’s territorial integrity, but also its neighbors’, specifically, Turkey.

5- Failure to foresee, and then face up to, Russian direct combat involvement, which is now a reality in many parts of Syria. This Russian involvement has exacerbated the refugee crisis – especially, after the fall of Aleppo – and given it global repercussions reflected in human tragedies and rise of anti-foreigners racist extreme Right in Europe.

Thus, the Obama Administration, which refused even to deter Al-Assad, emboldened Tehran and Moscow, and handed them the regional initiative in the Middle East; weakening in the process players who had considered themselves friends of America if not its strategic allies. This unhappy situation has increased the political and humanitarian costs, and decreased the chances of a victory for moderates against extremists in Syria and elsewhere.

What President Donald Trump did, by ordering a punitive strike in retaliation against the use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, was the first sign of ‘deterrence’. ‘Deterrence’ of the murder and displacement machine, its sponsors and operators.

It was the only action needed and required from Washington but never materialized.

This strike must not be a mere reaction, but rather a first phase in a genuine strategy that deals realistically and candidly with rulers and governments who have proven beyond any doubt that do not care about dialogue, consensus, co-existence and human rights.

Al-Assad regime and its backers carried on with their genocide in Syria, even after Washington had announced that toppling Al-Assad was no longer an American priority. This clearly underlines the futility of any dialogue with it. Defeating ISIS’ extremism can only be achieved by backing the forces of moderation. This means getting rid of those exploiting extremism, and thus forcing the victims of discrimination to condone and accept it.

In short, I do not want to see the end of the Damascus regime for Donald Trump’s sake, but rather as a sign of respect to the souls of child victims like Hamzah Al-Khatib, Wassim Zakkour, Alan Kurdi, and Aya and Ahmad Abdul Hamid Al-Yusuf, as well the stunned innocent face of Omran Daqneesh and the tears of every mother, father, sister and brother throughout Syria.