Even Former Friends Abandon Syria's Regime: Noe & Raad
Aug. 15, 2011 (Bloomberg) -- As the death toll from unrest in Syria mounts, with perhaps as many as 2,000 killed in the past five months, Mideast commentators who support the Syrian regime have become increasingly rare.
Even the publications of Syria's traditional allies, such as the Palestinian Hamas movement, whose top leadership is based in Damascus, are giving space to harsh indictments of those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In the pro-Hamas, Gaza-based daily Al-Resaleh last week, columnist Moumen Bseiso wrote that the Syrian regime “is extremely hostile to the aspirations and rights of its people” even though it enjoys “an honorable record at the foreign level" as a leader of resistance to Israeli and Western agendas in the region.
In an unsubtle reference to Assad’s confident pronouncement to the Wall Street Journal at the beginning of the year that Syria was immune to the uprisings in the rest of the Arab world because of its foreign policy, Bseiso concluded that coexistence between the “course of domestic tyranny and foreign dignity … cannot last forever.” The values of “freedom, dignity and justice are absolute values and strategic principles that cannot be traded.”
Some of the strongest criticism has come from Saudi owned media, especially in the wake of Saudi King Abdullah’s recent call for Assad to “stop the killing machine” followed by Saudi Arabia's recall of its ambassador to Syria.
In the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, one of the most widely circulated Saudi-owned dailies, 15 of the last 19 opinion pieces focused on Syria, with almost all arguing that the Syrian regime was unambiguously evil and would inevitably fall.
Among them was a piece by columnist and TV show host Hussein Shobokshi, who wrote:
Even the most optimistic of observers couldn't have imagined such a closing scene for the Syrian regime. The popular uprising there is glowing with determination and enthusiasm, as internal support grows alongside international approval and blessing. Even the staunchest followers and allies of the Syrian regime couldn't have conceived such fragility and stupidity on its part, but this is how events have developed.
An editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah was blunt: “The regime in Syria has not only lost its legitimacy, but it is important to get rid of it hastily to save the Syrian people.”
Another Saudi paper, Al-Watan, suggested in an editorial that the Syrian people would take matters in their own hands: "The Syrian people, like the Egyptians, have broken the fear barrier, and that will become clearer in the coming days.”
The Syrian media, which is almost entirely state-owned, has generally produced the mirror opposite of the narrative that has dominated the Saudi papers, using the same tone of moral certainty.
Columnist Adham al-Tawil wrote in the daily Tishreen that “some of our Arab brothers,” on instructions from external powers, adopted “lame, one-track positions that borrowed Western -- and indeed American -- logic, wrapped with the false slogan of Arab eagerness to stop the bloodshed in Syria.” He continued:
The brothers who are eager to preserve our blood ignored -- in an insincere, unfair and provocative way -- all the facts offered by the Syrian state, whether concerning the acts of killing and destruction that are being committed by armed groups targeting the country’s security, sovereignty and the future of its people, or concerning the important reform package that President Bashar al-Assad announced.
Syria, he added, knows that “the positions and statements issued by some Arabs regarding the events in Syria are not meant as advice and assistance, and that they do not reflect real Arab concern.”
Columnist As'ad Abbud agreed, adding in the newspaper Al-Thawarah that Israel, and behind it the U.S., is waging a conflict not against Syria alone “but against Syria, Iran and the resistance forces." He continued:
America’s basic conflict is with Iran. The aim is, first, to serve Israel as a priority in the region and the world, and, second, to prevent the emergence of a powerful country with a policy independent from the United States and NATO.
Since Iran managed to foil efforts to undermine it, the U.S., Israel and the West generally, Abbud argued, have now turned their attention to Syria.
A different columnist at Al-Thawarah, Khalid al-Ashhab, argued that the police response to recent rioting in London demonstrated that Western calls for UN action against Syria for responding to unrest there is a "flagrant double standard.” In the UK, authorities were dealing merely with looters, he wrote, whereas in Syria, the army responded to distress calls from citizens in order to confront “armed terrorist groups," justifying lethal action.
In an interestingly measured piece, columnist Raslan Halabi, writing in Al-Baath, the official daily of the ruling Baath party, offered cautious words for what he described as the “national opposition only.”
The opposition, he warned, is “taking things in a very simple way, as it perceives that it will come to power and run a democratic pluralistic government, as it suggests. This reflects ignorance and an underestimation of the special case of Syria and its ethnic and religious diversity.”
Voicing what remains one of the strongest lines of argument for many Syrians not yet opposed to the regime, Halabi continued:
Since we cannot assume that this new government will be strong and we cannot assume that the change process will take place calmly and without repercussions, it will face unlimited problems that push the situation toward chaos.
Halabi pointed to two neighboring countries that also have populations split along religious and ethnic lines -- Lebanon and Iraq, both of which have been scarred by sectarian violence. These examples, he wrote, "push everyone loyal to this country to be cautious."
Given the circumstances, caution seemed an appropriate state of mind, especially when compared to the utter certainty other commentators have been peddling of late.
(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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