Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ends & Beginnings, Fears & Hopes!

Indeed, the Tharwa Project’s offices in Damascus have recently been closed due to increasing security harassments and threats received by some of the team members. The heightened security awareness and follow up of our activities in this regard seem directly linked to the authorities’ growing perception of me as an opposition “prince” as the infamous report has it.

However, no one has been detained or questioned so far, messages were sent to the team members via through friends and relatives and that sufficed. I don’t anticipate any further developments in this regard.

In her coverage of this matter on her well-known weblog, Helena Cobban makes a valid point regarding my “prima donna” (or as like to spell it: “pre-Madonna,” that is, just a step away from being a full fledged Madonna) tendencies and my contradictory stands vis-à-vis the Syrian opposition. As Helen puts it:

In his blog, Abdel-Hamid [i.e. Abdulhamid] has called for the opposition to build "networks, networks, networks"… But even regarding "networks" he doesn't actually seem to be very respectful of the other people who might be in such a network. In this recent post he summarily dismissed "the Syrian opposition" as being "weak and idiotic."

Indeed, Helena is right, I have always been a prima donna. But my position vis-à-vis the Syrian internal opposition is not the best example for this tendency of mine. The fact that the internal opposition suffers from many glaring shortcomings is a well-established fact. But I have always said, nonetheless, that for all these serious shortcomings, the internal opposition represents the only hope left for the country to provide an alternative form of leadership that can guide the country out on this Baathist quagmire.

For the regime is obviously no longer a viable alternative, simply because it cannot govern, it can crackdown, but it cannot govern. The twain, cracking-down and governing, might be intimately linked at occasions, but they are not the same. This regime is capable of the first thing, which might be sufficient to shore it up for a while, perhaps a bit longer than I’d like or have been predicting (albeit the jury is still out on this). Still, a country such as Syria cannot remain ungoverned for long, especially under international isolation and sanctions.

Indeed a colleague of mine has just written an article in which he vehemently questioned the constant assertions by government officials that the country can survive without reforms and under these circumstances for long. The facts and figures he presents, all of which are official by the way, paint a very dismal picture nonetheless.

Neither this regime nor the country will survive a long-period of international isolation. But the real question ahead of us is: which is going to collapse first: the regime or the country? If the opposition did not indeed move, the latter seems to be the best bet. This is indeed the essence of my fear, anger, consternation, ambivalence, angst, pain and downright heartbreak.

Another issue that also goes to the core of my fear and angst these days is that of a reversal (as opposed to simply modifying and fine-tuning) of the current ME policy on part of the current US administration or under some new administration. Because, and as I have argued back in 2003, by invading Iraq on a democratization platform, the cause has been hijacked in a sense and the fate of American interventionism in the region and that of democratization has been intimately linked. Should the US efforts fail, or should a perception of failure even prevail, the outcome will be catastrophic for all of us, as dozens of petty dictators claim victory and begin to crackdown, more impudently than ever - with popular sympathy and approval to boot.

So, we can be as anti-American as our ideologies inform us to be, but, the moment when that first American solider stepped onto Iraqi soil, we, that is, all of us, liberals leftists and Islamists, who have been speaking in defense of democracy and human rights, we all became “tainted.” The regime can easily stigmatize us now as agents of the enemy, no matter how loud we should protest this or denounce the enemy.

The best strategy to deal with this situation, therefore, was that of running forward and transforming the stigma into a sign of strength and legitimacy. Our argument should have sounded something like this: The international community is denouncing our regimes, but it is working with us. Our regimes can only pave the path towards confrontation and mayhem, while we can negotiate a way out of the quagmire in which they put us, and into the folds of the modernizing and democratizing states.

Obviously, the Syrian opposition is too ideological to think along such lines, because, in essence, this is a very pragmatic line. It was easy for me to take such a stand, because my experiences in the US have fully transformed me, helping me, among many other things, kick the devil of blind anti-Americanism from my system. Others have different experiences, of course, especially those whose very cherished ideologies make them dubious of the US as the hotbed of capitalist consumerist values.

Making such transition for them is not an easy matter, then, and it is more like a leap of faith really than a simple change in perspectives. But I had hoped, and I continue to hope, seeing the kind of alternatives that are now staring in the face, and out of sincere desire to really save the country and not only write declarations and songs about it, that people will become more encouraged to make this kind of change, to take this kind of leap.

And to take it with their eyes open, of course. No one is asking the Syrian opposition to be stupid. On the contrary, the Syrian opposition needs to be more vigilant and savvy. They need to relearn the Art of Dialogue and Compromise, which will always be the cornerstone of the kind of real politick that small states need to practice in order to survive in such a fervent world.


On a related note, Human Rights Watch has just issued its report on Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa. The Report dedicates a section for the situation in Syria in which I make a brief appearance revealing the identity of General Dashing to the World.