Micromanaging the Syrian Revolution
Hamid Dabashi: The brutality of the Assad regime created conditions for the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to arm proxies forces and attempt to control the outcome of the struggle
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
In Syria, the killing continues, even though it’s been taken off the front pages of the news by the Israeli attack on Gaza. Now joining us to talk about the situation in Syria is Hamid Dabashi. He’s a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. He’s author of the recent book Corpus Anarchicum: Political Protests, Suicidal Violence, and the Making of the Posthuman Body. Thanks for joining us again, Hamid.
HAMID DABASHI, PROF. IRANIAN STUDIES AND COMMPARATIVE LIT., COLUMBIA UNIV.: Thank you, Paul. Anytime.
JAY: So, Hamid, tell us some of the recent developments in Syria. There’s aâ€”France (one supposes the United States has their hand in it) has helped initiate a sort of new leadership of the Syrian revolution. What is that about?
DABASHI: As always, Paul, as you know, my position is you have to start from facts on the ground. Facts on the ground is the bloody rule of the [incompr.] of Bashar al-Assad’s regime that is murdering its own citizens mercilessly. And everything else that has happened is subsequent and consequence of that particular fact. Whatever analysis we have of the region and of the developments in Syria, one should never lose sight of the fact that he is chiefly responsible for militarization of these peaceful uprisings. For eight consecutive months, Syrians were demanding their civil liberties peacefully without resorting to any violence, and the only response that Bashar al-Assad had for them was violence.
After that, the Qataris and the Saudis and Americans, and probably Israelis in some other ways, entered the scene and provided certain degree of arms to the resistance, and they began to do all kinds of resistance, military resistance, to the ruling regime.
Now, at a certain stage, of course, you cannot blame people who are picking up arms to defend themselves and their families and their neighborhoods. But then human rights organizations began to detect that certain human rights abuses and atrocities are being also perpetrated by the resistance. So the condition became messier that you have a repressive regime on one side and a noble resistance on the other side.
The fact is that these political cultures are going through a system, through a process that will take decades to address itself. The most recent development, of course, is the attempt by Americansâ€”Secretary of State Clinton was in Qatar trying to micromanage the formation of a kind of opposition that is acceptable to Americans, acceptable to the Qataris, very much on the modelâ€”and the European Unionâ€”very much on the model of Libya. So they formed a coalition, they established a figurehead that they recognized as the representative of the resistance.
And immediately the French recognized that opposition as the representative of Syria. The British took some time, and they have now also acknowledged and accepted this opposition. But immediately, and importantly, some other factions on the ground began to oppose the formation of this group, but later on, they said, no, we accept them.
So what becomes evident is that the Americans and the Saudis and the Qataris and European Union, they are trying to micromanage this opposition in a manner that post-Assad, post current regime condition will be acceptable to them.
But on the other hand, Iranians are not sitting either. They just last week formed a conference in whichâ€”they call it national reconciliation, trying to help even more, and publicly, the ruling regime to stay in power. And they are considering it as trying to bring various factions in Syria together. The Russians continue to help, Chinese continue to help. So, in effect, Syria has become a proxy war between two different strategies of how to micromanage the specifics of what is happening in Syria.
Turkey has a critical element, it has a critical role to play here. On one hand, ErdoÄŸan comes out and say, oh, you cannot kill your own people. And he’s absolutely correct. On the other hand, he himself is not interested in a free and democratic post-Assad that willâ€”in which the Kurds in northern Syria will have a say in the future of Syria, and as a result will have consequences for the Kurdish population of Turkey as well.
So, as I said, nothing is clean. Everything is messy. But from the mess, you can see the rise of a new geopolitics of the region. You know who the players are. And as I have always said, you need to keep your eyes on the ball.
What is the ball? The fact that these revolutions, all of them invariably began peacefully, and it is the ruling regime, whether it was Gaddafi in Libya or Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Bashar al-Assad in Syria, they made it violent. And as a result, other factors, such as Saudis and Americans, etc., are trying to take advantage. So this phase needs to be understood with balance of various powers, external powers, powers outside Syria trying to influence the consequences.
JAY: Is there a force on the ground in Syria that’s independent of the machinations of Qatar, the U.S., and the Saudis, and the Turks?
DABASHI: No. No political force, no militarized political force currently is independent of that. But what is independent of that is the population. The three key factors are labor unionsâ€”. Have you ever heard anything, what is happening to Syrian labor unions or women’s rights organizations or journalists or teachers or professors or the students? I mean, the civil society, that is the key, the unknown factor, people sitting around for this dust to settle. And you can conquerâ€”the Saudis or the Qataris or the Russians or the Iranians, they may think, okay, now we’re going to micromanage the condition and bring a regime that is beneficiary to their interests in the region, but as I have always said, there is no snowball chance in hell that Syrian people themselves, after so many sacrifices, will yield, as you see in Egypt.
I mean, Morsi thinks that now he’s going to dictate to Egyptians how democracy is going to work. Look at the example of Egypt today, how Egyptians are out in the streets again demonstrating against the possibility of a resurgence of dictatorship. And this is what will happen, whether it is a year from now or five years from now. If and whenâ€”and it will happenâ€”Bashar al-Assad falls and somebody else comes to power and wants to fake democracy, as Morsi is trying to fake democracy, people will be out in the streets peaceablyâ€”real peopleâ€”labor unions, women’s rights organizations, students, journalists, etc.â€”and will demand and exact their civil liberties. This is what we need to keep in mind.
JAY: And virtually all the outside forces that are playing a very direct role, including Turkey, but certainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, I mean, they’re essentially dictatorships. It’s not like democracy’s part of their real agendas here.
DABASHI: Right now there was huge mass hunger strikes in the jails of Turkey. Women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia. I was recently flying from Istanbul to London, and the pilot piloting our airplane from Istanbul to London was a woman, a Turkish woman. And I don’t know how many woman pilots exist even in the United States or Europe, let alone Turkey, but here I’m thinking that Saudi Arabia, a woman can’t even drive a car, and then Saudi Arabia has become the God-given gift to humanity for democracy and rule of law and so forth.
So all of these hypocrisies are out. It’s a fascinating moment in the history of the region. And as you know, it is not limited to Arab and the Muslim world, we have it in Europe, we have it in the United States, that the old-fashioned assumptions that old alliancesâ€”for Obama to becomeâ€”condemn Hamas and support Israel, he becomes a laughingstock because his own drones suddenly are on the table. Weâ€”that is, the ability for us to talk, ability for us to articulate a vision globally that is beyond this politics of despair is now made possible by virtue of the fact that all of their hypocrisies are simultaneously exposed.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Hamid.
DABASHI: My pleasure. Anytime.
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