Thursday, March 23, 2006

Full Frontal!


The comments on my previous post might be few, but they do, nonetheless, encapsulate the main sentiment that were expressed to me in dozens of emails and phone calls: the Syrian people will simply not endorse a front formed by Khaddam and Bayanouni, as the twain come with too much Ancien RĂ©gime baggage on their backs.

Unfortunately though, in the realm of politics issues are not that simple. This is especially true in a country ruled by a corrupt dictatorial regime that plays a smart yet deadly game of communal politics, following the old rule of divide and conquer, and where the rate of illiteracy runs higher than 40% for men and 70% for women and where more than 40% of the people live under the line of poverty.

In this kind of environment, all our political choices tend to be between different shades of really dark grey. No white knights are available or will likely be available anytime in the near future. As a result, quite a few “desirable” figures, that is, those with a lighter shade of grey, have tended to distance themselves from politics or have opted to leave the country all together. Or, at numerous occasions, they might have been simply forced out. But this only serves to leave the scene of the decision-making to the darkest of all shades.

What I am trying to say is this: in this region, and in Syria at this particular time, as well as for the foreseeable future, involvement in politics means that one has to deal with all too many people with old (and new) baggage on their backs and too many questions marks on their heads. But that’s the least of our problems, as the situation in the country has the potential of imploding anytime now, so we could soon be forced to deal with actual verifiable and quite active warlords. But, let’s hope this will not happen.


Indeed, what the Front represents for me is an attempt at brokering some kind of a Taif Accord to prevent civil war in Syria, the specter of which looms quite heavily in my mind, as in the minds of many Syrians (though I see this war coming more as a result of either having this regime stay in power and continue to mismanage the resources of this country for a few more years, or of ousting it through some hastily managed military action. The only way to preclude this possibility, as far as I can see, is to carefully manage the transition period starting now, in the hope of preculding recourse to violence by any side.

***

I was told by some, since I seem to be such a nice fellow and all that (at least for now), to form my own front. Well, let’s say that I did. Let’s say that some of you did indeed join me. Then what?

The leftists and the Islamists wouldn’t touch our group with a 32 and a half inch pole. Then, some of my personality traits are bound to prove objectionable to some of my fellow liberal opposition figures, and before you know it, three or four splinter groups will spring out of nowhere.


And we will all learn to bemoan the fate of the opposition and we will all complain against the narcissistic tendencies of "some of us," or their corruption, or their secret dealings with the Administration, the Zionist lobby and/or the regime itself. And of course we will all reiterate the same old call upon the opposition groups to unite and learn to work more effectively together.

***

Khaddam’s break with the regime and his reaching out to Bayanouni and other opposition figures has, in reality, introduced a different kind of dynamism onto the scene, and opposition figures can feel it in their bones. Despite the fact that few nay-sayers have already appeared (though I wouldn’t read too much in their nay-saying at this stage), most, I repeat, most active opposition figures inside and outside the country are talking to Khaddam and Bayanouni, directly or indirectly, while most of the rest are complaining about being excluded.

Talking, however, is not yet joining, and we now have a 45-day period before the second meeting takes place and the composition of the Front is finalized. Yes, we do have to concede the possibility that the talks could break up or end up producing nothing, and that whatever Front that will emerge at the end of the said period will not be as credible as it promises to be at this stage.

But, what should our position be, if the talks were, for the most part t least, successful? How should we react to a Front made up of known opposition figures representing all major currents in the country?

Before we answer that, let me make the following note: even under the best circumstances, the best that can be achieved now is to break the existing political stalemate in the country without breaking the country itself. This cannot be done without ensuring some sort of continuity between the old and the new regimes, and without accommodating the demands of national, confessional and political groups that were wronged under the old regime or that have reasons to fear being wronged under the new one. We cannot dismantle the Baath Party, we cannot dismantle the army, we cannot dismantle all of the security apparatuses, and we cannot sideline each and every figure we happen not to like. Some of them are bound to find a way to impose themselves on the scene, no matter what we have to say about that.

At least Khaddam is imposing himself through his public break with the regime. He is taking part of the risk now. But, in the future, there will be people who will stand by the regime to the last possible minute, and, then, they will come and demand, with all the impunity in the world, their “fair” share of power. Guess what? In some cases, in more cases than we like to admit really, we will have to deal with them and give them some of what they want.

So, why this whole change then? What’s the point of it?

Breaking the stalemate, that’s the point. For by breaking the stalemate we might, MIGHT, just have a chance at working for ideals such democracy, the rule of law, respect for basic human rights, and prosperity. We are fighting for a chance here, just a simple chance to work for these ends. Under this regime we simply don’t have it. They boxed themselves in, and the whole country with them.


I could see this coming even before Bashar came to power, the mentality of insisting on passing the power from father to son in a republican system was a sufficient indicator for me. Yet, like many others in the country, I hoped that we could still work from within to produce some positive change, no matter how long it would take. After all, building a democratic culture is bound to take decades as it can only be built from the bottom up, like it or not. But the unbridled corruption of the new guard, that dwarfed even that of their fathers, and the mistakes and the miscalculations that Bashar & Co. continued to make through the years rendered all our efforts useless. The Hariri assassination was the last nail in the coffin of our aspirations really.

The ruling lot cannot govern and cannot reform, and they will not allow anyone else to reform as this will undermine their hold on power, and they will not just go away. Hell, they will even kill to stay. So, what choices do we really have?


We simply have to work with what we actually have, no matter how little or undesirable it might seem, in order to get what we don’t have: a chance.

As to what could prevent Khaddam and Bayanouni from forming a new dictatorship, I think three elements could help here:

* In order to garner international recognition for the new regime, the twain will have to abide by the principles and declarations they are currently making.

* The twain will have to deliver on some of their promises at least in order to gain internal approval and legitimacy.

* A greater participation in the process on our part, as flawed as it might seem at this stage, will not leave them as the sole actors on the scene, and will allow for our input to take part in shaping the decision-making process, and the decision themselves.

***

Isn’t it ironic though? I mean Bashar seemed quite blameless a few years ago, yet he has diligently worked to make himself a full-fledged partner in the crime, while a person who was by all accounts a full-fledged partner in it might just play a part in helping us put an end to it. It always takes an insider, doesn’t it? Irony of ironies.

***

Don’t rush to judge though, despite this lengthy post, we really still have 45 days before we make up our minds, don’t we? As such, the debate is far from over. I look forward to your comments, emails and pone calls.