January 15, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
In a January 14 Wall Street Journal article on how “four years after the Arab Spring began, the new Middle East looks more and more like the old one,” reporter Yaroslav Trofimov noted that:
In his three decades in power, (former Egyptian president Hosni) Mubarak often told visiting American dignitaries that the choice was between him and the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main Islamist organization with branches across the region. He did prove right: A year after his ouster, the country’s first democratic presidential elections put the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in power.
In Syria, too, the view of the Assads was that the choice is between a secular government and the Muslim Brotherhood or violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists.
The Muslim Brothers had organized a series of riots against the Syrian government throughout the 1960s.
On coming to power in 1970, Hafez Assad—the current president’s father– tried to overcome the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood by weakening his party’s commitment to socialism (which political Islam opposes) and opening space for Islam.
This, however, did little to mollify the Muslim Brothers, who organized new riots and called for a jihad against Assad, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” His “heretical” government was to be brought down and the secular character of the state overthrown.
By 1977, the ideological forbears of today’s jihadists were engaged in a guerrilla struggle against the Syrian army and its Soviet advisers, culminating in the 1982 occupation of the city of Hama. The Syrian army quelled the occupation, killing 20,000 to 30,000.
In an effort to win the Islamists’ acquiescence, Assad built new mosques, opened Koranic schools, and relaxed restrictions on Islamic dress and publications. With these measures he secured some degree of calm, but political Islam remained a perennial source of instability, according to a U.S. Library of Congress country study of Syria, and the government was on continual guard against it. “The Muslim Brothers in Syria,” wrote the late Patrick Seale, a leading British writer on the Middle East, “were a sort of fever that rose and fell according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad.”
What’s interesting about the parallel between Egypt and Syria in both sharing tensions between secular government and political Islam is that the West has sided with secularism in Egypt and the use of coercive methods to quell opposition to it while supporting jihad in Syria and condemning the Syrian government’s attempts to quash it.
So it is that no one in the West is calling for Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, to step down, even though Sisi’s Egypt is hardly the model of the liberal democracy the West professes to promote. As Trofimov reports, “Egypt’s new authorities have…imprisoned tens of thousands of political foes and imposed new restrictions on protesting, the media, nongovernmental organizations and human-rights groups.” Sisi’s forces have also killed over a thousand Morsi supporters for the crime of demonstrating against the ouster of the legitimately elected president. Human Rights Watch concluded that Sisi’s violent crackdown was a crime against humanity.
In short, the West backs a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations and rewards him with over a billion dollars of military aid annually.
Meanwhile, the West, Turkey, and the Gulf oil tyrannies funnel arms, money and other assistance to violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists in Syria, including al-Qaeda and its offshoots, who are but the latest expression of a decades-long jihad which began with the Muslim Brotherhood against secular government in Syria. And the ostensible rationale for this exercise is said to be the necessity of overthrowing a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations.
It should be recalled that Egypt sold out the Palestinians by signing a peace treaty in 1979 with Israel to recover the Sinai Peninsula, and that the military, the real ruler of the country, is attached at the hip to the Pentagon.
The situation in Syria is quite different.
The West’s insistence that Assad step down (to yield power to puppets the West designates as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people) “has nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or supporting the people in the region,” argues the Syrian president. “The West wants client states ruled by puppets.”
And Syria, under the Assads, unlike Egypt under Sadat, Mubarak and Sisi, is not a client state.
France wanted Syria to play a role with Iran concerning the nuclear file. What was required was not to be part of that file, but to convince Iran to take steps which are against its interests. We refused to do that.
They also wanted us to take a position against resistance in our region before putting an end to Israeli occupation and aggression against the Palestinians and other neighboring countries. We refused that too.
They wanted us to sign the Euro-Association Agreement which was against our interests and was meant to turn our country into an open market for their products while giving us a very small share of their markets. We refused to do that because it is against the interests of the Syrian people.
The Syrian government refuses to be one of the West’s marionettes, insisting on promoting domestic interests at the expense of foreign powers and foreign businesses. Egypt, by contrast, has stepped wholly into the club of the West’s marionettes.