Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rallying around a Corpse!

The Syrian journalist Shaaban Abboud is not at all a friend of the ruling Syrian regime, but like many journalists and opposition members these days, he finds himself defending the regime presenting it as the only viable alternative around.

The main motivation for this bewildering attitude seems to be is fear of uncontrolled change. The fear is indeed well justified. It would have indeed much easier for all of us had Bashar turned up to be the right caliber reformist leader that the country sorely needs, had Bashar been able to reinvent the regime, creating a larger space for public participation in the decision-making process and allowing for greater transparency in the management of the country’s affairs. Instead Bashar turned up to be at best a weak and hapless leader, and at worst just another part of the problem, just another thug with his own particular business interests to pursue at the expense of the country and its people.

Rallying around this regime, under whatever pretext and regardless of the motives, is like rallying around a corpse. The only thing that this regime can deliver is decay.

So indeed the opposition is weak, indeed the opposition continues to hurt itself by turning against its main figures, people like Riad al-Turk and Kamal Labwani, and indeed, the opposition might be unable to prevent the implosion of the country. Still, and for all these shortcomings, the opposition is the only thing that is still showing some signs of life, so it is really the only hope.

Besides, the idea that the Baath Party has two million members is ridiculous. Had it really had this many members it could have easily filled the protest tents outside the US Embassy and the UN headquarters, instead of fielding just another freak show.

The reality is that the Baath is no more or less weak than any other party in Syria. It too cannot boast of more than several thousands active and dedicated members in its ranks. The other members are just there for membership benefits, benefits that have become all but meaningless of late due to the endemic corruption of the Party’s top cadres.

As for the country’s military and its security apparatuses, they were never under the control of the Baath Party and were never mean tot serve the Baath agenda, but that of the ruling clique.

On a related note, it does not matter in the least that Syria’s opposition does not have a popular mandate at this stage. Guiding the transitional process is an elitist matter anyway. The main task of the opposition now should be to prepare itself for this task and to hasten its arrival.

The current crisis affords a unique opportunity for challenging the regime from the inside. But this window of opportunity is not going to be there for long, should the internal opposition in Syria, and the secular elements in particular, fail to take advantage of it. Else, the regime, which is bound to collapse under the deadweight of its own internal contradictions, is going to collapse on our heads, and there will no one to manage the aftermath.

The only opposition group that seems to understand the nature of the current crisis is the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the last few years, the Brotherhood has been playing all its cards right. Rather than shying away from talking to the Americans, they have been trying hard to open up channels for dialogue. Rather than attempting to bargain with a decrepit regime, they have been modernizing, grooming and offering themselves as a viable alternative.

I had thought that the Damascus Declaration Group has finally begun to understand the necessity of catching up and of attempting to balance things out, so that a secular alternative can also be laid forth, and so that the Islamists are forced to play their own game of catching up. I
nstead, the secular opposition continues to be as fractious and amateurish as ever. As such, the only hope may not be a real hope at all. The opposition may not be alive after all, and the Syrian people might be caught between two dead weights, that of the regime and that of the opposition.

Still, and in order not to end on such a pessimistic note, let me say that I still prefer to bet on the opposition, which has never been tried, than on a regime and a president that have had ample opporunity to show us their real metal. We have the scars to prove it.


And on a completely unrelated note, Rami Khouri has an excellent article in the Daily Star dealing with the implications of the Paris Riots.