Saturday, January 28, 2012

Moscow plays Chess with just one pawn!

Moscow reportedly approves of the Arab League initiative for a peaceful transition to multi-party democracy in Syria (see previous post) but wants Assad to remain as president.

That's very interesting. It seems that the Syrian people have been out on the streets demanding that Mr Putin picks a suitable president for them, when I was asleep.

Sarcasm aside, the Russian pronouncements are in fact quite exciting! They now seem ready to ditch Assad and his cronies but want to ensure that, post-Assad, Syria remains their one and only client state in the Arab world.  The Arab League, NATO and the Gulf states can see Moscow's red lines and are unlikely to be able to cross them. The Americans certainly don't want to.

So, following the destruction of Iraq and Libya (Washington:2, Moscow: nil)  the two superpowers compromise again over the carve up of the Middle East.  The rich Arabs continue to recycle their petrodollars by stockpiling sophisticated US military hardware they neither need nor can use and the Persians and Syrians continue to pay for second rate Russian weapons so they can fight phantom wars against the Israelis and "imperialist Americans". The Europeans are happy to move in  like vultures to "rebuild" what the superpowers have destroyed. When they charge too much for their services to humanity, the Chinese get invited in to re-build it better, quicker and cheaper.

No, it is not a global conspiracy against the Arabs. The nations of the Middle East are their own worst enemies and generally deserve the governments they get. They should not blame other countries for pursuing their own interests.  Weak, dictatorial, crony or exploitative governments reflect their own dysfunctional and fragmented societies.

Autocracy and theocracy feed on weak and divided societies and are never the answer. Dictators just paper over the cracks or do their best to sow divisions in society, or find a foreign enemy to justify their existence. Fundamentalist religious leaders promise paradise, indoctrinate the young, exploit people's yearning for justice, honesty and fairness, stifle social development and peddle DIY edicts to stay in power. Ultimately, it is down to the people to determine their own destiny and guard their hard-won freedom through education, sweat, blood and tears.

Syrians have been shedding a great deal of blood and tears for nearly a year but they risk being pulled out of the frying pan and dumped into the fire by well-meaning and not-so-well meaning forces. The difficult birth of opposition forces in Syria reflects four decades of suppression. The opposition, understandably, have limited resources and experience of political activism, building democratic structures, managing civilised discourse or selling a convincing long-term vision to the nation. The most prominent thinkers and activists in the Syrian National Council (SNC) come across as generally too idealistic or too academic, detached from reality on the ground and simply unable to connect with ordinary people. Some seem  perhaps a little too eager to involve foreign powers in their struggle, and at too high a price for most Syrians.

In contrast, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria (NCC) seems more in tune with popular sentiment in the country but is seen as a little too trustful of the regime and too mistrustful of foreign powers, so it is losing tactical maneuverability and effectiveness. Without a charismatic and inspirational leader, who can negotiate a peaceful transition both with the regime and foreign powers, the NCC is in danger of becoming a prisoner of its own nationalistic ideals and fading away into oblivion.

The more violent the uprising the longer it will take to rebuild Syria into a modern state that truly cares about all its citizens. The signs are violence will increase. Yet, we have to remain optimistic, cohesive and patient. Syrians, in the longer term, will not allow autocracy, theocracy or superpower cronyism to rule over them again. Syria has sufficient natural resources and well-educated, enterprising and hard-working people both in the country and the Diaspora. Some young people may be temporarily swayed by fundamentalist ideals but most are independent thinkers and resourceful. They want nothing but freedom, opportunity and progress for themselves and their friends and families.  

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