Friday, May 12, 2006

Whose Syria Is It?

The Muslim Brotherhood was not making so much trouble before the arrival of Hafiz Assad to power, and Syrian society was not as religious 40 years ago as it is today. Oh yeah, leave it to a socialist nationalist secular regime to drive a rich country into poverty and knock a relatively open society back into the maze of sectarian belongings and traditional piety.

Yet, and while the growing religiosity of Syrian society tends to be part of a larger regional trend, we cannot just ignore the absurdity of it taking place in a country like Syria at the hands of the secular-cum-sectarian Assads. For here is a minoritarian regime playing with the fires of majoritarian extremism in the hope of actually prolonging its lifespan!!?? Come on!

What the Assads are actually doing, in spite of themselves it seems, is this: knowing, at a certain deep level, that their demise is indeed imminent, they are busy preparing the entire society, the entire country in fact, for taking the final leap with them over the edge and into the abyss that will mark the end of it all. As such, the Assads are doing two things simultaneously: working out their own demise and exacting their vendetta vis-à-vis the rest of the country, their own community included.

This is why we need something like the National Salvation Front, a pragmatic alliance of all major political currents on the scene in Syria: Baath elements who, for whatever reason, are ready to adopt a reform agenda, Islamists who can still talk to, leftist currents that can still represent the majority of the intellectual and artistic class in the country, and a few liberals to speak for the interests of the business class and the emerging new intellectual class.

This is why we need to accept the principle of cooperation with the likes of Khaddam and Bayanouni, among other controversial figures. For, on the short term, we really have no other viable alternative, seeing that we need to simultaneously kick the Assads out yet keep the country together. In fact, we need to prevent them from tearing the country apart in some act of stupidity and vindictiveness. This should be our short-term goal.

Indeed, we need the more pragmatic Islamists (and, no, I won’t necessarily use the term moderate here) to curb the more fanatical Islamists. We need Baathists to appeal to other Baathists. We need old regime figures to appease the fears of other old regime figures. We need secular Sunnis to appease the fears of the secular currents, including the country’s many minorities. And we most assuredly need Alawites to alley the fears of the other Alawites and convince them to keep their guns holstered.

Democratization is not the name of the game at this stage then, it is survival – the survival of a country. We need to save Syria from the Assads and their adventurist politics, we need to save it from those who’d rather err on the side of doom than caution, even as they play with the fate of an entire country.