Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The bad entourage | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

With the continued suppression of popular protests in Syria, one is reminded of the interview that the New York Times conducted with Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, who also happens to be a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a member of the powerful inner circle that dominates the decision making process in the country. In this interview Makhlouf played a lot of his cards, not least the message he addressed to Israel: “If there is no stability here [Syria], there’s no way there will be stability in Israel”. Yet what was most significant, in my estimation, was what he said about his government’s commitment to combating and confronting the protests until the end. This man, whose own activities have been the subject of protest, provided an insight into the thinking process of the regime, when he indicated that the ruling class believes that its survival requires them to unite in the face of protests, saying “As a person, each one of us knows we cannot continue without staying united together.”

This thinking process explains the Syrian regime immediately resorting to violence during the early days of the uprising, after the restricted circle surrounding the Syrian president chose the option of “repression” over the option of reforms and concessions. This decision, according to Rami Makhlouf, was not taken individually but collectively, i.e. by a group that considers its survival to be linked to the survival of the [Syrian] regime. They believe their interests are best served by the regime continuing to wield an iron first and remain in complete control of the state’s military and security apparatus, in addition to the economy.

In Yemen, a number of well-informed sources have spoken about the relatives of President Ali Abdullah Saleh – in addition to his close associates – being in control of much of the political, security and military apparatus in the country, in addition to Yemen’s economic resources, and pressuring the Yemeni president not to step down from power. Perhaps this explains why the Yemeni president’s position seems to change so often, with his statements swinging between him being prepared to step down and sign the Gulf initiative, to him completely rejecting this. Indeed he even addressed the Yemenis protesting against his rule, saying “I will not leave power…you [the protestors] should leave!” There are some circles that say that Ali Abdullah Saleh is a [political] manipulator, and that he does not want to step down from power, and that he utilized the Gulf initiative as a means to divide his opponents; however this does not discount the role being played by those surrounding the president whose interests are at stake, pressuring him to remain in power in order to preserve their own interests and presence. Such people could learn a little something from the following hadith: “When Allah has a good purpose for a ruler, He appoints for him a sincere minister who reminds him if he forgets and helps him if he remembers”. Were Saleh’s close associates of this caliber, they would have persuaded the President to step down when he said “I am tired (of ruling) and there are those who are tired of me, such is the way of the world”. Had they done this, they would have saved Yemen a lot of bloodshed and suffering.

The problem is that children, relatives and in-laws who have been granted top positions and who have a vested interest make it very difficult for a leader to take the decision to step down. They would prefer the regime resort to violence in defense of their own interests, regardless of what is in the best interests of the country. Therefore they convince the ruler that the country will be doomed to loss, disruption, chaos and strife if he were to step down from power. This twisted logic wants us to believe that in a country like Yemen, that has a population in the millions, nobody has an understanding or governance or is capable of ruling except the President and those in his entourage, which regardless of its size represents only a small percentage of the overall population, which has demonstrated its intelligence, wisdom, and courage.

Indeed this logic represents a condemnation of every ruler that has brought his country to such a deplorable state, failing to solve his people’s problems and failing to secure permanent stability based on the rule of institutions, that is unaffected by a change in leadership.

What is being said about Yemen and Syria can also be said about Libya, where Gaddafi pledged that he will not step down from power or leave the country, in response to the demands of his own people who he previously described as rats, drug addicts, and foreign agents. Here we are seeing a leader, who after nearly 42 years in power, is threatening to plunge his country into chaos and division if he is not allowed to remain in power and bequeath power to his sons. Following Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s speech at the beginning of the Libyan uprising, it became clear that Gaddafi’s children – as well as those surrounding the Libyan leader – share Colonel Gaddafi’s thirst for battle to preserve their own authority and personal interests.

In Egypt, as in Tunisia, those figures surrounding the president also played a large role, pushing the regime to the brink of the abyss with their corrupt political and economic practices. They were also shown to have played a role in promoting the use of violence to confront the protestors, as they were aware of the threat that these demonstrations posed to their interests and aspirations. The commission of inquiry set up to look into the incidents that precipitated the revolution in Egypt highlighted a number of factors, including financial, administrative and political corruption, political exclusion, and media misinformation, or let us media hypocrisy. All of these factors contributed to the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution, and also played a role in the manner that the regime confronted and dealt with the protests.

Bad entourages always work to surround the ruler or official, and remove any honest and sincere advisors that might influence them. Those surrounding this leader or official are than granted a clear path to easily spread corruption. Such retinues or entourages are not only responsible for many practices which lead to the deterioration of the situation and ultimately the catastrophic state of affairs [that many regimes find themselves in] but they are also responsible for the suppressive and violent manner used by such regimes to combat subsequent protests.

These popular Arab uprisings and revolutions are not passing crazes like the latest fashions or television programs. If that were the case they would not be so resilient, particularly in the face of the innocent blood that continues to be shed. These uprisings and revolutions represent a strong public outcry for dignity and human rights. They are taking place in accordance with the individual circumstances of each country and the aspirations of their people; however this is not akin to an airborne virus. Despite all the variations and differences between each one case and the other, there are some common factors, most notably the presence of corruption, despotism, and a bad entourage.