Neocolonial Carve-up of Syria
This is a lucid explanation of the Arab Spring's mysterious angle: what are the reasons for the conservative Saudis to support radicals abroad. To my knowledge, nobody yet explained it as clearly as Dr Omar Kassem, an Egyptian scholar residing in London: Israel Shamir
The Syrian Puzzle and the future of the Middle East
The Arab Spring, for all its meanderings, is a harbinger of the end of the post-colonial era in the Arab world. If America and Britain are finally going to be leaving the area to its own devices with a rump military presence no bigger or larger than anywhere else in the world, it isnt without having tried in an expensive and delusional millennial moment to upgrade from post-colonialism to empire. In an example of the delusion, nine years ago Paul Bremer was accepting Israeli bids to run the Iraq electricity grid.
American and British failure in the area was down to their actions always hurting their friends more than their enemies. This was the policy of seriously flawed leaders who were not checked by the democratic systems in their countries. Once begun, the lunacy continued. Now forced to leave (or not to leave, that is the question!) Afghanistan in disarray, there is apparently a new desire to get involved in Syria. Thats not all, for America and Britain are now also in the position of having to condemn Assads regime in Syria, support al-Thanis régime in Bahrain, and keep a straight face, all at the same time.
Having hurt Saudi Arabia with their lunatic gallivanting about the Middle-East, America and Britain are now having to make amends. This is not of course out of any contrition, for Anglo-Saxon moral certitude is unbending, but because they need Saudi Arabia to help them with the task of containing Iran, a long-time enemy, since it was unintentionally propelled by their policies into suddenly becoming the most powerful country in the region. If oil sanctions on Iran are to work, then Saudi help is vital.
In October 2009 King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia visited Bashar al-Assad to have him relinquish his Iranian alliance and to act more within the Arab fold. If Baghdad was lost, then perhaps Damascus could be regained. But the trip was a failure. Not only didnt Assad budge, but he unwisely reminded Abdulla that the Iranians had so far been the Palestinian causes best chance. Little did Assad know it, but he was setting himself up then for the situation he finds himself in today. The best example I can give of the new direct enmity between Riyadh and Damascus is the almost contemporaneous attacks on each others intelligence headquarters in July 2012.
Of course, in giving the Saudis and Qataris strong support in the Syrian situation, without being drawn into what would become possibly the ultimate military quagmire, the Americans and the British are, in another example of self-contradictory policies in the Middle-East, supporting the rise of a traditionally and absolutely anti-colonial regional movement: that of the Muslim Brothers. This movement is at the epicentre of a broad shift in politics in the Middle-East, and Egypt is at its core.
Turkey is often seen as the source of a new politics for the region; as in Russia, religion there has made a comeback, junking the drab meaningless secular fascism of the past. The AKPs Islamic idea has been trumpeted as the model for a troublesome area. But thats not how the Muslim Brothers see it. Of course it is good thing that the people of Turkey have re-engaged with their traditional normative philosophy of life, one which furthermore extends into the political sphere. But while the Arabs and the Turks have found friendship, Turks cannot offer the Arabs a model of Islam of the future. Memories are long, and scholars are deeply conscious of the fact that it was Ottoman State Islam which undermined the true nature of the faith. Wahhabism was only one of a long series of revivalist movements that sought to overturn it. Furthermore, the latinisation of the Turkish language, as well as the abolition of the caliphate, continue to cause offense. The Turks know all this despite their Ottoman instincts.
Thus the problem isnt about religion as such, it is about identity. Despite reports to the contrary, and some fraying at the fringes, Egypt is a deeply homogeneous nation. This homogeneity is both racial and ideational. The latter factor is based on a conception of the 19th century Egyptian reformers at their head Mu?ammad Abduh who, in reaction to the overwhelming dominance of western culture then, defined Islamic civilisation in opposition to it. It in fact was the beginning of the clash of civilisations idea, and changed the nature of the religion from a normative philosophy into a mark of the self. Egypt exported this idea to the rest of the Muslim world, and it is an idea which unites apparently secular to apparently religious, and apparently Muslim to apparently Christian. The creation of Israel and its insistence on being a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world subsequently provided this idea its cause célèbre. The Muslim Brothers vision is still couched in the absolute need to return this identity to Egypt and the Arab world, but it is one that still needs to face the constant tests of democracy lest it become dogmatic.
The democratic battle after the January 25th 2011 uprising was bitterly fought, but it was principally vested interests ironically beneficiaries of state sinecures and of crony capitalism both fighting a retrograde battle - who opposed the Islamic parties. Ultimately it was the instigators of the uprising, the youth movement and the April 6th movement, who, as the swing vote, saw the need to give the Islamic parties their head. They were repaid by Morsi the new civilian President hailing from the Muslim Brothers, with his relatively quick domestication of the military, although obviously a considerable amount still remains to be done constitutionally (if not economically!).
But the story of the Muslim Brothers cannot be seen from a purely Egyptian angle, for it is a regional movement. Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel, with al-Arabiyya TV in its wake, owned and run as they are by Gulf monarchs, broadcast continuous live footage of the Arab Spring, essentially facilitating the uprisings and fomenting revolution. So how did Gulf monarchs ever come to promote revolution one may ask with the Emir of Qatar at their head? The Emir of Qatar clearly has the support of important elements of the Saudi state. Qatar in fact has been at the forefront of fulfilling the Saudi policy of Arabisation of the Palestinian cause, competing with Iran for the rebuilding of Hezbollahs infrastructure after the pointless 2006 Israeli demolition of it, and now also planning a major reconstruction of poor Gaza. The answer is that these developments are rooted in the history of the Muslim Brothers in Saudi Arabia ever since the 1950s.
The Muslim Brothers as the strongest political contenders after the Egyptian revolution of 1952 were forcibly crushed by Gamal Abdel Nassers military régime. They sought sanctuary in Saudi Arabia and were granted it by the Wahhabi establishment in exchange for their help in fighting the spread of secularism and nationalism across the Arab world. While Nasser was the gravest threat, there were also the Baath parties in Syria and Iraq to contend with. Arriving in Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brothers were wholly unlike the Wahhabi religious establishment. This last was a traditional doctrinal culture, unprepared for the social and economic upheavals that were to come in the wake of the oil boom. The Muslim Brothers on the other hand had run schools and hospitals for the poor in Egypt, and fostered an education surrounding an understanding of imperialism and colonialism, all of which would eventually help shape and run the new institutions of the Saudi state.
In alliance with the Wahhabi establishment, the Muslim Brothers came to criticise some of the policies of modernisation carried out by the Saudi royal family when too much western influence was permitted. Eventually however their shrill response to rising levels of poverty, high unemployment and economic stagnation in the Kingdom, became its primary source of dissent, and caused consternation. Subsequently divisions between the new revivalism and the gradually ossifying Wahhabi establishment opened up in the course of a series of crises: first in the seizure of Meccas sacred mosque and the call to overthrow al-Saud in November 1979, then in Saddam Husseins invasion of Kuwait, and also after al-Qaedas 11 September 2001 attacks. On each occasion, under pressure from all quarters, the royal family sought the support of the Wahhabi establishment, and survived thanks to it. But each resolution and accommodation as it arose was met with general unpopularity and criticism. The régime became embattled and the Wahhabi establishment came to be seen as out of touch. From this state of affairs arose the policy of support for the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria as an attempt to export their relentless energy and relieve tensions internally, while creating client states in the Arab world dependent on the Gulf nations for funding and support.
The rest is history as they say, but we are left with the Syrian morass. If that domino is to fall, and Syria is return to the Arab fold in a new and democratic way, the best way forward is to starve the rebels of funds for arms, and make all help conditional on peaceful mass protests, at once. Thus ending the violence and leaving Assad, now no longer embattled and needing support, in the clutches of his people, to be held to account by them, will result in democracy. The Iranian régime will not prop him up if a democratic process truly gets under way, because they will want to deal with a legitimate government, and are quite capable of negotiating with one that is either Sunni or Alawi dominated or one that is a mixture of both. Dont be fooled into thinking that there are any kinds of religious obstacles to such an outcome. But if the force of arms is permitted to have its way, then, given current circumstances, the rise of the Muslim brothers in Syria will not be as benign as it should be, confessional polarisation and potentially endless unnecessary suffering will ensue. As we saw in Egypt in Ta?rir Square, we need to see Muslims and Christians in Syria holding hands in protest.
Dr Kassems bio: I'm Egyptian, aged 60, and I live in London most of the time at the moment. I'm married have 3 children, 2 grown up, 1 still in education. I'm a graduate of Cambridge in theoretical economics. I'm a postgrad of London Uni., School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Msc. in monetary theory. I'm a doctor (PhD) again of London Uni., School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), specialised in theory of justice (social choice theory) (1984), subsequently worked quite a lot on Kant and the Enlightenment and Islamic philosophers, finishing off a book on philosophy (in English first) available in early new year for peer review
It is my belief that the 17th century nation-state, which took over in Europe from the catholic church when it collapsed, although it has now spread to all countries of the world, is an outmoded system of human governance which will take us to the brink of destruction unless human beings reassert control over it.
An earlier letter From Omar Kassem re: (Turks and Syrians from Shamir)
A very interesting and knowledgeable explanation of the Arab Spring:
well done on a good article!
there is however one thing which I disagree with you about and that is the Neocon plan for the middle east coming about if Assad falls. If Assad falls: if he falls the Muslim Brothers will take over Syria with Qatari money. Now I support the MB in Egypt because they have been the country's social conscience and its welfare system for 85 years. But in Egypt the MB have a particular place among all the other forces with which it is balanced in the context of a homogeneous population. In Syria there is no such thing, the MB is the tough guy in a heterogeneous population. As you rightly say the Christians will suffer, and the Christians of Iraq, who left Iraq for Syria will suffer twice over. Memories of the Armenian exodus will return etc...
I've read a lot of your articles and I trust your judgment - so here goes:
What is actually happening in the Arab world few people understand. If you remember the Wahhabis brought al-Saud to power and al-Saud has underwritten the power of al-Sabah in Kuwait and al-Khalifa in Bahrain. Al-Thani in Qatar and al-Nahayan in Abu Dhabi are independent but being small also have to cow-tow to al-Saud. The Wahhabi ideology and 'priesthood' ruled all this in the early days. But the Wahhabi movement has ossified, and in becoming defenders of the Gulf regimes have lost status to the MB. The MB came over to Saudi during the Nasser expulsion of the 1950's and has taken root throughout the gulf, becoming the premier social movement. The shiite protests in the eastern provinces may fill our tv screens, but what worries gulf states the most is the power of the sunni MB. This is why they want to cut a deal with them and give them Egypt and Syria in exchange for protection (they will also give them Libya after a while - but that's less important). At such time as Assad falls, the MB will become the dominant power in the Middle East, and will received unlimited funding from the Gulf rulers as payoff. Hezbolla and Iran will cut deals with them, and they have a lot to offer them in terms of military expertise. Iran don't forget is what has caused all this to start with by banging the Palestinian drum constantly since 1979 and embarrassing the Gulf rulers over their ineptitude and treachery. This is what has led the Arab street to back the MB over the Wahhabis over the years. The MB will support radical Islam in Turkey, because they despise how Turkey ditched the religion and annulled the caliphate, and they despise Erdogan's 'half-baked' Islam as 'not enough'. As far as the Neocons and Israel are concerned, it will be the beginning of the end of their dream. They will reap the whirlwind, and they will sit and watch as what are now US-backed movements turn around to bite them where it hurts most.
From Saif, re Turks and Syria
Nice article, and while it praises the Islamic Ottoman empire and its current status, Turkey must be seen in the larger context of Sunni power, which causes Erdogan to support the Sunni Palestinians against the Jews, and the Sunni Syrians versus the minority Alawite dynasty of the Baathist party for the last 50 years. The Baathists are Communist dictators, with Alawite nepotism embedded in their ethos and ruling modus operandi, and working eventually for the Shi'ite crescent. Both Sunni and Shi'ism are powerful strains of Islam and they are united against the Israelis, but within Islam, ancient competitors for power.
The Syrian Civil War is a just cause for Syrian Sunnis who constitute 80 percent of the Syrian population to have a say in their own governance, and it is a rightful demand that the Sunnis make, and the Alawites have massacred tens of thousands of Sunnis through their decades of rule through Oppression, while squandering the Golan Heights and their nascent Nuclear Power to Israel.
I fully support Erdogan in his Sunni support to the 90 percent Sunni Islamic World, and when the 80 percent of Sunni Syrians will come to power, Turkey will reap enormous Geo-political and strategic benefits. We don't have to be psychic to see the outcome of the Syrian Civil War.